The term hallux valgus actually describes what happens to the big toe. Hallux is the medical term for big toe, and valgus is an anatomic term that means the deformity goes in a direction away from the midline of the body. So in hallux valgus the big toe begins to point towards the outside of the foot. As this condition worsens, other changes occur in the foot that increase the problem. One of those changes is that the bone just above the big toe, the first metatarsal, usually develops too much of an angle in the other direction. This condition is called metatarsus primus varus. Metatarsus primus means first metatarsal, and varus is the medical term that means the deformity goes in a direction towards the midline of the body. This creates a situation where the first metatarsal and the big toe now form an angle with the point sticking out at the inside edge of the ball of the foot. The bunion that develops is actually a response to the pressure from the shoe on the point of this angle. At first the bump is made up of irritated, swollen tissue that is constantly caught between the shoe and the bone beneath the skin. As time goes on, the constant pressure may cause the bone to thicken as well, creating an even larger lump to rub against the shoe.
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.
Patients with bunions will often display pain over the prominent bump on the inside of their forefoot (the medial eminence?). However, they may also have pain under the ball of the foot (under the area near the base of the second toe). Symptoms can vary in severity from none at all to severe discomfort aggravated by standing and walking. There is no direct correlation between the size of the bunion and the patient?s symptoms. Some patients with severe bunion deformities have minimal symptoms, while patients with mild bunion deformities may have significant symptoms. Symptoms are often exacerbated by restrictive shoe wear, particularly shoes with a narrow toe box or an uncomfortable, stiff, restraining upper.
When an x-ray of a bunion is taken, there is usually angulation between the first metatarsal bone and the bones of the big toe. There may also be angulation between the first and second metatarsal bones. These angular irregularities are the essence of most bunions. In general, surgery for bunions aims to correct such angular deformities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wearing good footwear does not cure the deformity but may ease symptoms of pain and discomfort. Ideally, get footwear advice from a person qualified to diagnose and treat foot disorders (podiatrist - previously called a chiropodist). Advice may include wear shoes, trainers or slippers that fit well and are roomy. Don't wear high-heeled, pointed or tight shoes. You might find that shoes with laces or straps are best, as they can be adjusted to the width of your foot. Padding over the bunion may help, as may ice packs. Devices which help to straighten the toe (orthoses) are still occasionally recommended, although trials investigating their use have not found them much better than no treatment at all. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may ease any pain. If the bunion (hallux valgus) develops as part of an arthritis then other medication may be advised. A course of antibiotics may be needed if the skin and tissues over the deformity become infected.
The most simple procedure is reducing the bump, and while there will be a little pain and swelling afterwards and your mobility will be restricted, the recovery time is short (ie a few weeks), but it may not fix the underlying cause. More serious ops might involve lasers, robots, cutting bone in the foot and trying to reposition it, and/or inserting pins or wires. It can take months to recover fully and you might need a cast. Mike O?Neill recommends seeking an NHS consultant surgeon who specialises in bunion removal to ensure the best possible outcome. The type of anaesthetic, local or general, will depend on the procedure, but most are day cases and the surgery will take from less than 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Waiting times vary but from your first outpatient appointment to the op would be a minimum of a few months. Private treatment (preferably by an NHS consultant surgeon) is likely to cost thousands of pounds. A new less, invasive procedure called surgical correction of hallux valgus that makes a small incision in the bone has recently been approved for use in the NHS but there is still no conclusive evidence on how effective it is and it is not widely available.
To minimize the chance of developing bunions, never force your feet into shoes that don?t fit. Choose a shoe that conforms to the shape of your foot. Opt for shoes with wider insteps, broad toes, and soft soles. Shoes that are short, tight, or sharply pointed should be avoided.