Hallux valgus may sound like a curse from Harry Potter, but it?s the medical term for a bunion, a bony growth where the big toe joins the foot. At best a bunion is an unsightly bump which can get a bit red and sore. If it gets big enough it limits the type of shoes you can wear, and sometimes a painful sac of fluid known as a bursa develops around it. But left untreated, a bunion really can become a curse if it starts to push the big toe towards the smaller ones, causing more problems such as hammer toes, or problems in the spine and legs.
No one single cause has been proven. There are a number of causes, and though shoes can exacerbate the problem, bunions do occur in societies that don?t wear them. We walk on the same type of ground all the time, whereas the human foot was actually designed to adapt to varying terrains. In a sense, a bunion is a type of repetitive strain injury. And like repetitive strain injury, some people are more prone to it than others. One theory, though it remains unproven, is that bunions are caused by one or both of the following. Because the foot wasn?t designed to constantly walk on a level surface, the ball of the big toe is slightly lower than the ball of the rest of your foot. When your foot meets the ground, the ball of the big toe is pushed up, and the big toe joint can?t bend as well as it was designed to. In order for the big toe joint to bend fully as you walk, your foot rolls slightly over to the side (this is also why people with hallux valgus often get hard skin). Also, if your midtarsal joint tends to move from side to side more than it does up and down, the arch in your foot collapses as your foot rolls in. This also makes you more prone to developing bunions. Such problems can be exacerbated by tight footwear. Slip-on shoes can make matters worse. Because they have to be tighter to stay on your feet, you automatically have less room for your toes. And with nothing to hold your foot in place, your toes often slide to the end where they?re exposed to lots of pressure. Likewise, high heels throw more weight onto the ball of the foot, putting your toes under further pressure. If you haven?t got a bunion by adulthood and you later develop one, there could be some underlying arthritis.
SymptomsIf you have a bunion, you may have pain or stiffness of your big toe joint, swelling of your big toe joint, difficulty walking, difficulty finding shoes that fit. These symptoms may be caused by conditions other than bunions, but if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
Orthopaedic surgeons diagnose bunions on the basis of physical examination and weight bearing x-rays. Two angles are assessed, the intermetatarsal angle, that is between the first and second metatarsals (the bones that lead up to the base of the toes). If this angle exceeds 9? (the angle found in the healthy foot) it is abnormal and referred to as metatarsus primus varus. the hallux valgus angle, that is, the angle of the big toe as it drifts toward the small toe. An angle that exceeds 15? is considered to be a sign of pathology.
Non Surgical Treatment
When the deformity is mild, treatment is usually not necessary. However, changing shoes to ones that have little or no heel, and are wider in the toe area (toe box) will be more comfortable and may help to prevent worsening of the bunion deformity. If the bunion starts to become painful, other measures may help. Bunions can cause pain in several different areas. The medial eminence may be painful, the entire first toe joint may hurt, or there may be pain underneath some or all of the forefoot (the ball of the foot). Pain over the medial eminence is the most common problem that affects bunion patients. A ?toe spacer? can be placed between the first and second toes and can provide some pain relief as it straightens out the bunion slightly. Pads placed over the medial eminence itself are hard to keep in place and rarely help to relieve pain. Pain underneath the first toe or lesser toes can be relieved by pads placed in the shoes in precise areas. The pads help to take pressure off the prominent areas on the bottom of the foot. Generalized measures to relieve bunion pain, such as physical therapy or foot stretching exercises, have not been shown to be helpful. Orthotics are often prescribed, but are also rarely helpful in relieving pain over the bunion, but may help with pain felt under the ball of the foot.
Bunions can cause pain and difficulty wearing certain shoes. When simple treatments don’t relieve your symptoms, surgery may be considered for treatment of the bunion. What are the signs that surgery may be the right treatment for your bunion? In general, surgery is recommended only when pain from the bunion prevents a patient from wearing normal shoes. There is a common misconception that surgical treatments for a bunion are better and quicker than non-surgical treatments. Unfortunately, patients who rush into surgery may have unrealistic expectations, and may be unsatisfied with surgery.