Symptoms of a Bunion and Available Treatments
What is a Bunion?
Bunions are basically a bulge on the side of the big toe. If you look at a bunion, that is what you see, the bump. But the problem actually goes much deeper than that. The visible bump of a bunion is a reflection of a change in the bones in the foot. The bones in the foot have actually shifted.
When you have a bunion, your big toe leans toward the second toe instead of pointing straight ahead like it is supposed to do. This change in the toe puts the other bones out of alignment, which causes the bump. Bunion are progressive. A bunion starts with bend of the big toe. Because of the bend, the bones slowly change position over the years, causing the bump to stand out even more. Symptoms of a bunion typically do not occur until the later stages of the deformity, and some people never have any symptoms at all.
What causes a Bunion and how is a Bunion diagnosed?
Bunions themselves are not inherited, but the foot type you are born with is, and it is the mechinical structure of the foot which usually causes a bunion. Wearing ill-fitting footwear which crowds your toes doesn't cause a bunion to form, but wearing improper shoes can make the deformity worsen faster. In other words, sometimes wearing unsuitable footwear can cause you to suffer bunion symptoms sooner than would have if you were wearing well-fitted, proper footwear.
Bunions are clearly visible. If you are suffering from a bunion, you should be able to see the bony prominence at the base of your big toe or on the side of your foot. However, your podiatrist may need to take x-rays to ascertain the extent of the deformity and assess any changes that have occurred. Bunions will not go away on their own. In fact, bunions typically get worse as time progresses. The rate at which the deformity progresses will vary from case to case. Once your podiatrist has assessed your individual case, he/she will develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.
Bunion symptoms commonly arise when wearing tight shoes which crowd the toes, like high heels. That might explain why women are more likely to have bunion symptoms than men. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain or soreness at the site of the bunion, especially after wearing crowded shoes.
- A burning sensation after pressure is put upon the bunion site.
- In serious cases, the patient may experience some numbness
- Calluses or sores between the toes or on the big toe.
- Ingrown toenails on the big toe
- Restricted motion of the toe because of pain.
Observation is sometimes the only treatment for a bunion. A periodic office evaluation and x-ray examination can help your podiatrist establish whether or not your bunion deformity is advancing, thereby decreasing your chances of irreperable damage to the joint. However, in many cases, some type of treatment besides just observation is necessary. Treatments in the early stages are intented to ease pain caused by the bunion, but the treatment will not get rid of the bump. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can help to lessen the pain and inflammation.
- Apply ice to the inflamed area several times a day to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Put padding over the area to help decrease pain. You can purchase bunion pads from your podiatrist or buy them at a drug store.
- Avoid activities that cause pain, such as standing for long periods of time.
- Change your footwear. Look for shoes that have a wide toe box and try to avoid shoes with pointed toes or high heels, which may worsen the condition. Our video on the best shoe selection may be beneficial to you when finding the right shoe to wear.
- Injection therapy is a seldom utilized treatment. However, in some cases, injections of corticosteroids may be effective in treating an inflamed bursa, a fluid-filled sac found in a joint, which is seen at times with bunions.
- Your podiatrist may recommend orthotic devices to be worn in your shoes.
When is Bunion surgery needed?
When bunion pain interferes with your day-to-day life, it's time to discuss surgical treatments with your podiatrist. Your podiatrist can provide you with all the information you need and can help you decide whether surgery is the right option for you. Recent advances in surgical techniques have led to a very high success rate in treating bunions with surgery. A range of surgical procedures can be performed on bunions. The procedures consist of removing the “bump” of bone on the side of the toe, correcting changes in the foot structure, and correcting any soft tissue changes. The goal of bunion surgery is the elimination of pain. In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your specific situation, your podiatrist will take into account the level of your deformity based on x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.