A bunion is a very common foot deformity that develops over the first metatarsal phalageal joint of the big toe of the foot. The joint that joins the big toe to the foot is called the first MTP joint. When it becomes prominent and the big toe starts to become crooked this is known as a bunion. The term referring to deformity of the big toe as it becomes crooked is called Hallux Valgus. It is the bump itself that is known as the bunion. When it gets red and swollen over the bunion because it gets sore this is usually due to an inflamed soft tissue over the underlying bone.
The most common cause of bunions is prolonged wearing of poorly designed shoes such as the narrow high heels that women wear. This is one of the reasons why bunions are much more common in women than in men. There is also a hereditary component to bunions in that many times we will see a grandmother, mother and daughter all with various stages of bunions. 38% of women in the United States wear shoes that are too small and 55% of women have some degree of bunion formation. Bunions are 9 times more common in women than they are in men.
Left untreated, bunions will gradually become worse especially if women continue to wear the narrow pointed shoes. Not all bunions progress because if the patient starts wearing good shoewear and they are caught early enough they may not get any worse. In general however, they will certainly not get any better no matter how they are treated. We generally reserve surgical treatment for bunions that are painful. If they are not painful they should simply be observed and shoewear modified. Occasionally the patient will want the bunion corrected for cosmetic reasons.
There are a few basic pointers to remember when buying shoes. Do not buy shoes by simply buying the size that you think you should fit into. The shoe must be tried on and worn in the store for several minutes until you make sure that it is not compressing your foot. The shoe itself should look as close as possible to the normal shape of a foot. You should realize that the size and shape of your feet will change as you get older. With age your arch generally flattens out slightly and your foot will become slightly longer. As well the left foot will not always be the same size as the right foot. Shoes should be fitted at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest due to gravity and natural occurrence. You should stand during the fitting process and make sure that you measure width as well as for length of the shoe. Do not expect your shoes to stretch to fit you.
Indications for Surgery
Pain is the most common indication for bunion surgery. You may also notice redness and inflammation and usually this means that the bunion has progressed to a point that it will not respond to simple modification in shoe wear. Eventually, that major joint of the big toe will become stiff and this makes it difficult for activities such as climbing stairs and sports.
Types of Bunion Surgery
There are many different procedures described to correct bunions. You should be aware that usually just shaving the bunion off, although it is attractive and minimally invasive, is usually not enough. Initially the foot will look much better but with time the bunion will recur.
Arthrodesis refers to surgery performed on the great toe joint where the joint is fused. This is usually reserved for people with very severe deformities when other surgical options are impossible.
Bunionectomy refers to the simple removal of the bunion itself. This is seldom used because it doesn’t correct the underlying bone problems.
Osteomety is the most common surgical procedure. The bone is cut and the bones realigned and pinned in place until they heal so that the underlying bone deformity is corrected and the bunion will not recur.
The resection arstplasty refers to the removal of the toe joint and this creates a flexible scar that functions as the joint instead. In the past there has been some interest in implanting artificial joints but this has fallen out of favor due to the fact that they usually do not hold up with the normal every day stress that people put their feet through.
All patients should understand pre-operatively what they can expect from the surgery. The majority of patients who have bunion surgery are very pleased with their results and have a significant improvement in both their cosmetic appearance as well as the pain. Surgery does not however make it possible to fit into smaller shoes for the purpose of cosmetic reasons. If this is done the bunion generally will recur. You have to wear good shoe wear after surgery.
You should also be aware of the risks and complications and alternatives such as infections, nerve injury and recurrence of the bunion and failure of the hardware. Other medical risks such as blood clots in the legs and risks related to the anesthetic must also be considered. Unfortunately no surgery can be performed that is actually risk free no matter what kind of surgery is performed. Generally speaking, bunion surgery is safe and effective. Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis unless there is underlying medical problems. The patient will enter and leave the hospital on the same day and the patient will have a choice of different anesthetics such as spinal, general anesthetic and various nerve blocks. The anesthesiologist will discuss this with the patient in detail.
Post Operative Care
Crutches will need to be used for the first few days. After that, a special boot is placed on the bandage and the patient can weight bear but will have to wear that special post-op shoe for approximately 4-6 weeks to ensure proper healing. This dressing has to be kept clean and dry but usually the patient can get around for day to day activities quite well after just 2-3 days. But they will have to modify their activities during the 4-6 week healing period.