A bunion is generally considered as an enlargement of the joint (a lump of bone) at the base and side of the big toe (specifically, the first metatarsophalangeal joint). Bunions form when the toe moves out of place. As the big toe bends towards the others this lump becomes larger and the bunion can become painful, arthritis and stiffness can eventually develop. Hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus (HAV) is the name used for the deviated position of the big toe and a bunion refers to the enlargement of the joint, most of the time the two go together and can just be referred to as 'bunions'. The word bunion is from the Latin "bunion," meaning enlargement.
Bunions occur with greater regularity in women than men, and they may sometimes run in families. You may also have an increased likelihood of bunions if you are born with certain bone abnormalities in your feet. Factors that may increase your chances of developing a bunion include long-term use of narrow-toed and/or high-heeled footwear. Arthritis. Toe trauma. Laxity of your connective tissues (ligament laxity). Limb length inequalities. Genetics. Certain foot problems (e.g. flatfoot, over-pronation, etc.).
The signs and symptoms of a bunion include a bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe, swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint, Thickening of the skin at the base of your big toe, Corns or calluses, these often develop where the first and second toes overlap, persistent or intermittent pain, restricted movement of your big toe. Although bunions often require no medical treatment, see your doctor or a doctor who specializes in treating foot disorders (podiatrist or orthopedic foot specialist) if you have persistent big toe or foot pain, a visible bump on your big toe joint, decreased movement of your big toe or foot, difficulty finding shoes that fit properly because of a bunion.
Clinical findings are usually specific. Acute circumferential intense pain, warmth, swelling, and redness suggest gouty arthritis (see Gout) or infectious arthritis (see Acute Infectious Arthritis), sometimes mandating examination of synovial fluid. If multiple joints are affected, gout or another systemic rheumatic disease should be considered. If clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritic synovitis is equivocal, x-rays are taken. Suggestive findings include joint space narrowing and bony spurs extending from the metatarsal head or sometimes from the base of the proximal phalanx. Periarticular erosions (Martel sign) seen on imaging studies suggest gout.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of bunions should be individualized because the degree of deformity is not always consistent with the degree of pain. The most important first step in the treatment (and prevention) of bunions is to wear properly fitted shoes, with a low heel and adequate room in the toe area. Further treatment may include relative rest and icing to decrease pain around the MTP joint, medications to reduce inflammation and pain, stretching and strengthening exercises and shoe orthotics. If the above measures are not successful, surgery may be required.
Bunion surgery is occasionally required when the bunion deformity is too advanced for conservative treatment to work. Your surgeon will usually cut an angular section from the bone to correct the alignment. In some cases, multiple toes may need to be straighten.