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What Are Bunions?

Overview
Bunions
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.


Causes
Bunions most commonly affect women. Some studies report that bunion symptoms occur nearly 10 times more frequently in women. It has been suggested that tight-fitting shoes, especially high-heel and narrow-toed shoes, might increase the risk for bunion formation. Tight footwear certainly is a factor in precipitating the pain and swelling of bunions. Complaints of bunions are reported to be more prevalent in people who wear shoes than in barefoot people. Other risk factors for the development of bunions include abnormal formation of the bones of the foot at birth (congenital) and arthritic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In some cases, repetitive stresses to the foot can lead to bunion formation. Bunions are common in ballet dancers.


Symptoms
Pain in the toe joint and surrounding area. Painful to touch or press, and when walking. Growth of a bony lump (exostosis) at the side of the big toe joint. Irritated skin around the bunion. Redness. Thickening of overlying skin. Blisters may form more easily. Deformed bones, joints and ligaments as the big toe shifts towards the other toes. As the big toe shifts, its base becomes more prominent, forming the bunion. Eventually the big toe is forced to lie over, or more commonly under, the second toe. The second toe of patients who have bunions commonly forms a hammer toe. Trouble with shoes. It is difficult to find shoes that fit properly. Bunions may force you to buy a larger size shoe to accommodate the width the bunion creates. Eventually it hurts to wear any shoe, or even walk barefoot.


Diagnosis
Your doctor can identify a bunion by examining your foot. Watching your big toe as you move it up and down will help your doctor determine if your range of motion is limited. Your doctor will also look for redness or swelling. After the physical exam, an X-ray of your foot can help your doctor identify the cause of the bunion and rate its severity.


Non Surgical Treatment
Fortunately, many bunions never go on to cause problems other than the cosmetic appearance. The easiest option is to try different shoes or padding, however this is not the answer for everyone. The various straps and braces that are commercially available are not proven to be particularly effective.
Bunions


Surgical Treatment
When a surgeon cuts and repositions a bone, it is referred to as an osteotomy. There are two basic techniques used to perform an osteotomy to realign the first metatarsal. In some cases, the far end of the bone is cut and moved laterally (called a distal osteotomy). This effectively reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. This type of procedure usually requires one or two small incisions in the foot. Once the surgeon is satisfied with the position of the bones, the osteotomy is held in the desired position with one, or several, metal pins. Once the bone heals, the pin is removed. The metal pins are usually removed between three and six weeks following surgery. In other situations, the first metatarsal is cut at the near end of the bone (called a proximal osteotomy). This type of procedure usually requires two or three small incisions in the foot. Once the skin is opened the surgeon performs the osteotomy. The bone is then realigned and held in place with metal pins until it heals. Again, this reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. Realignment of the big toe is then done by releasing the tight structures on the lateral, or outer, side of the first MTP joint. This includes the tight joint capsule and the tendon of the adductor hallucis muscle. This muscle tends to pull the big toe inward. By releasing the tendon, the toe is no longer pulled out of alignment. The toe is realigned and the joint capsule on the side of the big toe closest to the other toe is tightened to keep the toe straight, or balanced. Once the surgeon is satisfied that the toe is straight and well balanced, the skin incisions are closed with small stitches. A bulky bandage is applied to the foot before you are returned to the recovery room.

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