Hallux valgus, often referred to as "a bunion," is a deformity of the big toe. The toe tilts over towards the smaller toes and a bony lump appears on the inside of the foot. (A bony lump on the top of the big toe joint is usually due to a different condition, called hallux rigidus.) Sometimes a soft fluid swelling develops over the bony lump. The bony lump is the end of the "knuckle-bone" of the big toe (the first metatarsal bone) which becomes exposed as the toe tilts out of place.
Various factors, including a tight gastrocnemius (or calf) muscle and instability of the arch, contribute to formation of bunions. The tight calf muscle is often hereditary and can cause a bunion because it forces more loading, or pressure, on the forefoot. Ultimately, this can contribute to instability in the bones, ligaments and tendons that form the arch. When it?s unstable, the arch starts collapsing and the metatarsal can shift. Arch instability can also be brought on by obesity, again, due to chronic overloading of the foot. But, by far, the most common contributing factor is childbirth. Bunions are most common in women who have had children. This happens because the hormones that affect their pelvis during childbirth also affect their feet. The hormone is called relaxin, and it allows bones to move and spread. Over time, it can cause the structure of a woman?s feet to gradually stretch and the metatarsal to shift.
Often the bunion is not painful and the individual leads a normal active life. Other times the bunion can be very painful, even debilitating. Pain is usually very achy and typically radiates to the toes and along the arch of the foot. Due to the abnormal positioning of the bones in the foot, sharp nerve pains could also be present.
Although bunions are usually obvious from the pain and unusual shape of the toe, further investigation is often advisable. Your doctor will usually send you for X-rays to determine the extent of the deformity. Blood tests may be advised to see if some type of arthritis could be causing the pain. Based on this evaluation, your doctor can determine whether you need orthopaedic shoes, medication, surgery or other treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for bunion. Analgesics may help. Inflammation it best eased via ice therapy and techniques or exercises that deload the inflammed structures. Anti-inflammatory medications may help. Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to reduce your pain and inflammation. These include ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, deloading taping techniques, soft tissue massage and orthotics to off-load the bunion. As your pain and inflammation settles, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal toe and foot joint range of motion and muscle length. Treatment may include joint mobilisation and alignment techniques, massage, muscle and joint stretches, taping, a bunion splint or orthotic. Your physiotherapist is an expert in the techniques that will work best for you. Your foot posture muscles are vital to correct the biomechanics that causing your bunion to deteriorate. Your physiotherapist will assess your foot posture muscles and prescribe the best exercises for you specific to your needs. During this stage of your rehabilitation is aimed at returning you to your desired activities. Everyone has different demands for their feet that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some it be simply to walk around the block. Others may wish to run a marathon or return to a labour-intensive activity. Your physiotherapist will tailor your rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals. Bunions will deform further with no attention. Plus, the bunion pain associated does have a tendency to return. The main reason is biomechanical. In addition to your muscle control, your physiotherapist will assess your foot biomechanics and may recommend either a temporary off-the shelf orthotic or refer you to a podiatrist for custom made orthotics. You should avoid wearing high heel shoes and shoes with tight or angular toe boxes. Your physiotherapist will guide you.
Depending on the size of the enlargement, misalignment of the toe, and pain experienced, conservative treatments may not be adequate to prevent progressive damage from bunions. In these cases, bunion surgery, known as a bunionectomy, may be advised to remove the bunion and realign the toe.
To help prevent bunions be sure your shoes don't cramp or irritate your toes. Choose shoes with a wide toe box - there should be space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Your shoes should conform to the shape of your feet without squeezing or pressing any part of your foot. Avoid pointy-toed shoes.