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Do Bunions Require Surgical Treatment?

Overview
Bunion Pain
A simple bunion is an abnormal bump of bone that is formed at the head of our old friend, the first metatarsal bone. The bunion can either be on the top or side of the first metatarsal bone. In a more advanced bunion deformity, called Hallux Abducto Valgus, there starts to be a movement of the big toe toward the second toe. The most severe bunion is when the first toe not only moves toward the second toe, but it overlaps or underlaps the second toe. Bunions can cause swelling of the feet to occur.


Causes
There is some debate about the main cause of foot bunion pain, but they tend to fall into 2 categories. Genetics. There is a definite genetic link, meaning that if someone in your family suffers from a hallux abducto valgus, there is a high chance that you will too, although this is not always the case. It may be due to an abnormal foot position such as flat feet, or a medical condition such as hypermobility (where your joints are overly flexible) or arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or gout). Regularly wearing high heels with a pointed toe puts you at high risk for developing foot bunions. Ill-Fitting Footwear. Poorly fitting shoes are thought to be the other common cause of foot bunion pain. Frequent wear of tight fitting shoes or high heels places excessive pressure on the big toe pushing it into the classic hallux abducto valgus position.


Symptoms
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot just behind the great toe. A red painful bump is usually present. Pain is usually brought on with walking or sports. Shoes don’t cause bunions but will typically aggravate them. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other.


Diagnosis
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
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
Bunions Hard Skin


Surgical Treatment
Surgery can be a very successful treatment for bunions and could be considered if you are having pain that is affecting your function on a regular basis, for instance, pain during sports or wearing work shoes. It is important, however, that you are seen by a consultant orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon who has undergone specialist training with a foot and ankle fellowship. There are many different surgical techniques and it is important that your surgeon is expert in several of these so that you have the one that is best for your unique deformity. Bunion removal is usually done under general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep throughout the procedure. The operation can be performed as a day-case, but an overnight stay in hospital is sometimes required. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and risks of having bunion surgery, and will also discuss the alternatives treatments.


Prevention
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight or have high heels can force your toes together. Bunions are rare in populations that don?t wear shoes. Make sure your shoes are the correct size and that there’s enough room to move your toes freely. It’s best to avoid wearing shoes with high heels or pointed toes.

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