A bunion, (medical term: hallux abductovalgus) is a condition resulting in boney prominence at the inside of the foot at the big toe joint. A bunion occurs when the big toe begins to deviate toward the second toe. The biggest misconception is that bunions occur from an overgrowth of bone. While that may be true in very few people, the bunion really represents a dislocation of the big toe joint as it bulges against the skin.
Women traditionally have a higher rate of bunions, which is to be expected, since it is they who have traditionally worn shoes with high heels, a narrow toe box, or whatever fashion dictates from year to year. However, men can suffer from bunions as well, as can anyone for whom the right (or wrong) conditions exist, poor foot mechanics, improper footwear, occupational hazards, health and genetic predisposition. Finally, bunions have long been a condition associated with the elderly, and although they often appear in conjunction with inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis (which is often associated with age), they can strike at any point in life, including adolescence.
SymptomsA bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint aggravated by footwear. Red, calloused skin along the inside edge of the big toe. Corns or calluses under the ball of the foot or where the first and second toes overlap. Persistent or intermittent pain. Restricted movement of your big toe.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI’s are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for bunion. Analgesics may help. Inflammation it best eased via ice therapy and techniques or exercises that deload the inflammed structures. Anti-inflammatory medications may help. Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to reduce your pain and inflammation. These include ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, deloading taping techniques, soft tissue massage and orthotics to off-load the bunion. As your pain and inflammation settles, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal toe and foot joint range of motion and muscle length. Treatment may include joint mobilisation and alignment techniques, massage, muscle and joint stretches, taping, a bunion splint or orthotic. Your physiotherapist is an expert in the techniques that will work best for you. Your foot posture muscles are vital to correct the biomechanics that causing your bunion to deteriorate. Your physiotherapist will assess your foot posture muscles and prescribe the best exercises for you specific to your needs. During this stage of your rehabilitation is aimed at returning you to your desired activities. Everyone has different demands for their feet that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some it be simply to walk around the block. Others may wish to run a marathon or return to a labour-intensive activity. Your physiotherapist will tailor your rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals. Bunions will deform further with no attention. Plus, the bunion pain associated does have a tendency to return. The main reason is biomechanical. In addition to your muscle control, your physiotherapist will assess your foot biomechanics and may recommend either a temporary off-the shelf orthotic or refer you to a podiatrist for custom made orthotics. You should avoid wearing high heel shoes and shoes with tight or angular toe boxes. Your physiotherapist will guide you.
If your bunion is symptomatic and causing you persisting and troublesome symptoms then surgery should be considered. There is no correct amount of pain or inconvenience which a bunion may cause which warrants surgery. Symptoms which a bunion causes are generally subjective, and what is a problem in one person?s view will not be a problem in another’s. For bunion surgery to be successful (correcting the deformity and losing the symptoms) the mechanical factors driving the deformity should be overcome. Bunion surgery should replace the 1st metatarsal closer to the 2nd thus reducing the width of the foot, and also realigning the tendons and reducing their deforming forces. These principals of bunion surgery are well demonstrated by the following x-rays which shows how a Scarf osteotomy has achieved this aim.