When the big toe is misaligned, it creates an unnatural bump on the inside of the forefoot (see image below). In addition to being unsightly, the lump or bunion can cause pain and make buying shoes difficult. Some people are born predisposed to bunions. But most people acquire them over time from ill-fitting footwear that squeezes the big toe inward toward the other toes. About four out of five bunion pain patients are female, a near perfect fit for the bad shoe theory. The good news, Bunions can be corrected, often with better-fitting shoes and custom orthotics. There are also some cases that cause severe bunion pain and do not respond to conservative treatment. For those patients, bunion surgery called bunionectomy may be necessary.
Bunions are a result of complex biomechanical changes that occur in your feet. The type of footwear that you wear does cause bunions. We know that foot bunions occur in about 30% of the population of most Western countries but only 3% in Eastern countries. They are seen most commonly in women and become more common as people get older. Tight-fitting shoes are thought to be the main cause of bunions.. Shoes such as high heels and shoes with tight toe boxes (eg womens fashion shoes and cowboy boots) are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot bed and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to bear your weight, which encourages your forefoot to widen. Also, the angle pushes your toes into the narrow toe box, causing the toes to become angled and squeezed together.
Many people with bunions suffer from discomfort and pain from the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction of the enlargement against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Over time, bursitis or arthritis may set in, the skin on the bottom of the foot may become thicker, and everyday walking may become difficult-all contributing to chronic bunion pain.
Looking at the problem area on the foot is the best way to discover a bunion. If it has the shape characteristic of a bunion, this is the first hint of a problem. The doctor may also look at the shape of your leg, ankle, and foot while you are standing, and check the range of motion of your toe and joints by asking you to move your toes in different directions A closer examination with weight-bearing X-rays helps your doctor examine the actual bone structure at the joint and see how severe the problem is. A doctor may ask about the types of shoes you wear, sports or activities (e.g., ballet) you participate in, and whether or not you have had a recent injury. This information will help determine your treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunion pain can be successfully managed in the vast majority of cases by switching to shoes that fit properly and don't compress the toes. Your orthopaedic surgeon can give you more information about proper shoe fit and the types of shoes that would be best for you. Follow these general points of shoe fit. Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Judge the shoe by how it fits on your foot. Select a shoe that conforms as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot. Have your feet measured regularly. The size of your feet change as you grow older. Have both feet measured. Most people have one foot larger than the other. Fit to the largest foot. Fit at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8" to 1/2") for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits well into the widest part (ball pocket) of the shoe. Do not purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to "stretch" to fit. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slippage. Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits and feels right. (Fashionable shoes can be comfortable.) Some shoes can be modified by stretching the areas that put pressure on your toes. Splints to reposition the big toe and orthotics (special shoe inserts shaped to your feet) also may relieve pain. For bunions caused by arthritis, medications can be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.
Most bunions can be treated without surgery. But when nonsurgical treatments are not enough, surgery can relieve your pain, correct any related foot deformity, and help you resume your normal activities. An orthopaedic surgeon can help you decide if surgery is the best option for you. Whether you?ve just begun exploring treatment for bunions or have already decided with your orthopaedic surgeon to have surgery, this booklet will help you understand more about this valuable procedure.
To help prevent bunions, select your style and size of shoes wisely. Choose shoes with a wide toe area and a half-inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes also should conform to the shape of your feet without causing too much pressure.