When people think of a bunion, it’s common to think only of the telltale bump that forms at the base of the big toe. Like the tip of an iceberg there is more to it than just that protrusion. That bump on the side of the toe is sign of a prominent shift in the skeletal structure of the forefoot; one that has caused the big toe to be thrown out of alignment and begin pressing toward the other toes of the foot. What causes this deformity, and what can be done to treat it? Is bunion surgery an option?
A Joint Jutting Out
A bunion often forms due to an imbalance of forces and pressure upon the foot. This imbalance affects the joints of the foot and the tendons that help hold them in place, creating instability. Eventually, the joint of the big toe can shift outward, creating that bump as the rest of the toe tilts inward.
The conditions for creating a bunion can be inherited, or the deformity can exist since birth. Conditions such as arthritis or an injury to the foot can also destabilize the big toe joint enough for the abnormality to develop. It is also common to hear that high heels and tight shoes with narrow toes cause bunions but this is not proven. These shoes are terrible for the feet, though, and can make an existing condition worse.
In addition to that bulge on the toe, a bunion can also cause redness, swelling, or an aching pain around the joint. The skin around the base of the toe can grow thicker, and calluses or corns can develop where the toes start to rub together. The big toe might also begin to lose its range of motion. Symptoms tend to grow worse while wearing tight shoes or after standing for a long time.
Battling the Bulge
A bunion is rather simple to diagnose on the surface, but it often pays to take an X-ray or other imaging test of the foot in order to determine how severe the deformity has become and whether or not bunion surgery is necessary.
Unfortunately, the condition does not correct itself and tends to grow worse over time. In the early stages, the focus is usually on keeping track of the condition and preventing its progression. This may require changes to footwear, the use of custom-made orthotics, and adjusting or stopping activities that aggravate the condition. Medications and ice can help with pain and swelling.
If these measures don’t provide enough relief, bunion surgery might become an option. There are a number of different procedures that can be performed; including realigning the bones, removing part of the bone, and removing tissue from around the joint. The best procedure depends on each specific patient and case.
Although bunions are a common deformity, that does not mean they should be ignored. Taking the right actions now can prevent the problem from becoming worse in the future and potentially leading to additional troubles. Dr. Gregg Neibauer and the staff at Alpine Foot & Ankle are here to help you find the best and most comfortable outcomes for your bump. Call our Missoula office at (406) 721-4007 to make an appointment and take the first step toward expert care.