The term bunion refers to an enlargement of the base joint of the toe, the connection to the foot. This enlargement may be formed of swollen tissue or a bony growth, and is caused by the shifting of the bones in the big toe inward, toward the other toes of the foot. The area around the base of the big toe may become inflamed, red, and painful.
Genetic factors are important in the formation of bunions – people who get bunions are usually genetically predisposed to this bone displacement, and may cause its onset by wearing improperly fitting shoes, or by running or walking in a way that causes stress to the feet. Another common cause for bunions is wearing high heeled shoes. The weight of the body in these shoes pushes the toes into an unnatural position, possibly causing bone displacement.
A podiatrist who specializes in foot structure and bio-mechanics will be able to quickly diagnose bunions. Bunions must be distinguished from gout or arthritic conditions, so blood tests may be necessary. The podiatrist may order a radiological exam to provide an image of the bone structure. If the x-ray demonstrates an enlargement of the joint near the base of the toe and a shifting toward the smaller toes, this is indicative of a bunion.
Wearing wider shoes can remove the pressure on the bunion and reduce pain. High heeled shoes should be eliminated for a period of time as this type of shoe generally pushes the big toe outward toward the smaller toes. This may be enough to eliminate the pain associated with bunions; however, if pain persists, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. Severe pain may require an injection of steroids near the bunion. Orthotics for shoes may be prescribed which, by altering the pressure on the foot, can be helpful in reducing pain. These do not correct the problem, but by eliminating the pain, they can provide relief.
For cases that do not respond to these methods of treatment, surgery can be done to reposition the toe. A surgeon may do this by taking out a section of bone, or may rearrange the ligaments and tendons in the toe to help keep it properly aligned. It may be necessary even after surgery to wear more comfortable shoes that do not put undue pressure on the toe as the big toe can easily move back to its orientation toward the smaller toes.