Bunion is the common term for a medical condition known as Hallux Valgus. Hallux Valgus is the tilting of the toe away from the mid-line of the body. It is usually characterized by a lump or bump that is red, swollen and/or painful on the inside of the foot in and around the big toe joint.
Bunions are most widely considered to be due to an imbalance in the forces that is exerted across the joint during walking. The resulting abnormal motion and pressure over the joint, over many years (combined with poor fitting footwear) leads to instability in the joint causing hallux valgus and bunions. Bunions are really only a symptom of faulty foot mechanics and are usually caused by a combination of the way we walk, the foot we inherit and inappropriate footwear use.
Look for an angular, bony bump on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe. Sometimes hardened skin or a callus covers this bump. There's often swelling, redness, unusual tenderness, or pain at the base of the big toe and in the ball of the foot. Eventually, the area becomes shiny and warm to the touch. Seek medical advice if you have persistent pain when walking normally in otherwise comfortable, flat-soled shoes, you may be developing a bunion, bursitis, or a bone spur in your foot.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment may be surgical or non-surgical. The goal of non-surgical treatment is to relieve pressure on the foot and to prevent pressure sores and foot ulcers. This is accomplished by prescribing accommodative shoes with a wide toe box - sandals or extra depth shoes with soft moulded insoles. It may also be possible to relax the leather on shoes to make room for a bunion.
Sometimes a screw is placed in the foot to hold a bone in a corrected position, other times a pin, wire or plate is chosen. There are even absorbable pins and screws, which are used for some patients. In British Columbia, pins seem to be used most frequently, as they're easier to insert and less expensive. They are typically--but not always--removed at some point in the healing process. But as a general rule, Dr. Schumacher prefers to use screws whenever possible, as they offer some advantages over pins. First, using screws allows you to close over the wound completely, without leaving a pin sticking out of the foot. That allows for a lower infection rate, it allows you to get your foot wet more quickly following the surgery, and it usually allows for a quicker return to normal shoes. Second, they're more stable than pins and wires. Stability allows for faster, more uneventful, bone healing. Third, they usually don't need to be removed down the road, so there's one less procedure involved.