A bunion, or hallux valgus, develops when the big toe bends abnormally towards the other toes. This can lead to swelling of the joint, causing pain and redness in and around the big toe, and potentially making it quite difficult to walk. Once a bunion has formed, it tends to get worse and can get very painful. What might seem to be a minor inconvenience can really affect quality of life in a major way and many people are relieved to have bunion surgery to try to sort out the problem.
This article on bunion surgery is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What causes bunions?
Bunions tend to run in families and are most common in women. Other factors can also increase the risk of developing bunions, such as arthritis and wearing badly fitting shoes. Activities that put pressure on the toes, such as dancing and wearing high heels, can also increase the risk of developing bunions. Weakness or poor foot function, such as excessive rolling while walking, can also be a risk factor. In some cases, injury to the foot can lead to a bunion.
What are the symptoms of bunions?
The main symptoms of bunions include redness, swelling and pain, the feet becoming too wide to fit into normal shoes, and possible effects on the alignment of the other toes, affecting the overall appearance of the foot.
Non-surgical treatments for bunions
The discomfort caused by bunions can sometimes be relieved by devices designed to realign the big toe and/or protect the joint. Exercises to help strengthen the muscles in the area and anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and swelling can also be helpful. While non-surgical treatments may relieve the symptoms of bunions, bunion surgery is really the only long-term solution but it is not something that should be rushed into.
Bunion surgery is a complicated procedure with a relatively long and uncomfortable recovery period. Bunion surgery is not a guaranteed cure and can often lead to complications such as calluses and corns depending on the procedure used. As a result, bunion surgery should only be considered when all non-surgical treatment options have been tried.
Types of bunion surgery
There are over 100 different types of bunion surgery, depending on the type and severity of your bunion. Bunion surgery is usually done under general or local anaesthesia as a day case and takes about half an hour.
Bunion surgery involves your surgeon making a small cut over your big toe joint, and then shaving off the piece of bone that is sticking out. If needed, your surgeon will then reposition the foot bone, ligaments and tendons. The bones may be held in place using small screws or wires. Following bunion surgery, the skin is closed with stitches and your foot may be either bandaged or protected with a plaster cast.
Individual approaches to bunion surgery include:
Repair of the soft tissues around the big toe
Arthrodesis: the damaged joint surfaces are removed
Exostectomy: the lump on the toe joint is removed (this type of bunion surgery is mostly cosmetic as it does not correct instability of the joint)
Resection arthroplasty: the damaged part of the joint is removed
Osteotomy: the joint is cut and realigned
Minimally invasive bunion surgery: a new technique that can provide enhanced benefits with less tissue damage and shorter operation and recovery times. However, this type of surgery is not yet widely available and may not be suitable for all types of bunions.