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Bunion

Abstract

A bunion is a deformity of the joint connecting the big toe to the foot. The big toe often bends towards the other toes and the joint becomes red and painful. Onset is gradual. Complications may include bursitis or arthritis.

The exact cause is unclear. Proposed factors include wearing overly tight shoes, family history, and rheumatoid arthritis. Diagnosis is generally based on symptoms and supported by X-rays. A similar condition of the little toe is referred to as a bunionette.

Treatment may include proper shoes, orthotics, or NSAIDs. If this is not effective for improving symptoms, surgery may be done. It affects about 23% of adults. Females are affected more often than males. Usual age of onset is between 20 and 50 years old. The condition also becomes more common with age. It was first clearly described in 1870.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of bunions include irritated skin around the bunion, pain when walking, joint redness and pain, and possible shift of the big toe toward the other toes. Blisters may form more easily around the site of the bunion as well.

The presence of bunions can lead to difficulties finding properly fitting footwear and may force a person to buy a larger size shoe to accommodate the width the bunion creates. If the bunion deformity becomes severe enough, the foot can hurt in different places even without the constriction of shoes. It is then considered as being a mechanical function problem of the forefoot.

Cause

The exact cause is unclear. Proposed factors include wearing overly tight shoes, family history, and rheumatoid arthritis. Some state that footwear only worsens a problem caused by genetics.

Pathophysiology

The bump itself is partly due to the swollen bursal sac or an osseous (bony) anomaly on the metatarsophalangeal joint. The larger part of the bump is a normal part of the head of the first metatarsal bone that has tilted sideways to stick out at its distal (far) end.

Bunions are commonly associated with a deviated position of the big toe toward the second toe, and the deviation in the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones of the foot. The small sesamoid bones found beneath the first metatarsal (which help the flexor tendon bend the big toe downwards) may also become deviated over time as the first metatarsal bone drifts away from its normal position. Osteoarthritis of the first metatarsophalangeal joint, diminished and/or altered range of motion, and discomfort with pressure applied to the bump or with motion of the joint, may all accompany bunion development. Atop of the first metatarsal head either medially or dorso-medially, there can also arise a bursa that when inflamed (bursitis), can be the most painful aspect of the process.

Diagnosis

Bunion can be diagnosed and analyzed by plain projectional radiography. The "hallux valgus angle" (HVA) is the angle between the longitudinal axes of the proximal phalanx and the first metatarsal bone of the big toe. It is considered abnormal if greater than 15–18°. The following HVA angles can also be used to grade the severity of hallux valgus:

- Mild: 15–20°

- Moderate: 21–39°

- Severe: ≥ 40°

The "intermetatarsal angle" (IMA) is the angle between the longitudinal axes of the first and second metatarsal bones, and is normally less than 9°. The IMA angle can also grade the severity of hallux valgus as:

- Mild: 9–11°

- Moderate: 12–17°

- Severe: ≥ 18°

Treatment

Conservative treatment for bunions include changes in footwear, the use of orthotics (accommodative padding and shielding), rest, ice, and pain medications such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These treatments address symptoms but do not correct the actual deformity. If the discomfort persists and is severe or when aesthetic correction of the deformity is desired, surgical correction by an orthopedic surgeon or a podiatric surgeon may be necessary.

Treatment | Orthotics

Orthotics are splints or regulators while conservative measures include various footwear like gelled toe spacers, bunion/toe separators, bunion regulators, bunion splints, and bunion cushions. There are a variety of available orthotics (or orthoses) including over-the-counter or off-the-shelf commercial products and as necessary, custom-molded orthotics that are generally prescribed medical devices.

Treatment | Surgery

Procedures are designed and chosen to correct a variety of pathologies that may be associated with the bunion. For instance, procedures may address some combination of:

- removing the abnormal bony enlargement of the first metatarsal,

- realigning the first metatarsal bone relative to the adjacent metatarsal bone,

- straightening the great toe relative to the first metatarsal and adjacent toes,

- realigning the cartilaginous surfaces of the great toe joint,

- addressing arthritic changes associated with the great toe joint,

- repositioning the sesamoid bones beneath the first metatarsal bone,

- shortening, lengthening, raising, or lowering the first metatarsal bone,

- correcting any abnormal bowing or misalignment within the great toe,

- connecting two parallel long bones side by side by syndesmosis procedure

At present there are many different bunion surgeries for different effects. The age, health, lifestyle and activity level of the patient may also play a role in the choice of procedure.

Traditional bunion surgery can be performed under local, spinal or general anesthetic. A person who has undergone bunion surgery can expect a 6- to 8-week recovery period during which crutches are usually required to aid mobility. An orthopedic cast is much less common today as newer, more stable procedures and better forms of fixation (stabilizing the bone with screws and other hardware) are used. Hardware may even include absorbable pins that perform their function and are then broken down by the body over the course of months. After recovery long term stiffness or limited range of motion may occur in some patients. Visible or limited scarring may also occur for patients.