As the weather forces us to wear more enclosed footwear, many people will be suffering from pain in their bunions. In this second article in the Foot and Ankle series, our expert Foot and Ankle surgeon Mr Tim Sinnett FRCS(Tr&Orth) discusses the options available to those suffering with bunion pain including the possibilities and practicalities of undergoing surgery.
What is a bunion?
The term ‘bunion’ describes a deformity of the big toe in which the main joint becomes prominent and painful and the end of the toe deviates towards the lesser toes. The medical term for a bunion is Hallux Valgus.
What causes bunions?
The causation of bunions is multi factorial but the commonest cause is hereditary or genetic. It is common for patients to tell us that their parents had similar problems with their feet. Other causes include trauma, hypermobility (being “double-jointed”) and ill-fitting shoes. Bunions are more common in women than men.
How should I treat my bunion?
If you are concerned about the shape of your foot, then you should seek advice from a foot and ankle specialist. Mild deformities may respond to non-surgical treatment and these include wearing wide fitting shoes, using materials such as lamb’s wool to pad the prominent bone, or the use of splints to help straighten the toe. Splints can make the toe straighter whilst it is being worn but as soon as it is removed, the toe will revert to its previous position.
All of these treatments are aimed at managing the symptoms of a bunion. None will definitively correct the deformity.
If non-surgical treatments have not given you a sufficient improvement in symptoms then you may wish to consider surgery to correct the deformity.
What does bunion surgery involve?
If you and your surgeon have agreed that surgery is the correct option for you, then it is important that you know what to expect. The surgery itself will be done under regional nerve block or general anaesthetic. It involves realigning the bones in the foot using surgical instruments and then fixing them in place with surgical screws. Because of this, it is important to protect the foot following the surgery to allow the bones to heal properly. You will be given a specialist orthopaedic shoe to wear and crutches to help restrict the pressure going through the foot. You should be able to walk unaided (without crutches) quite comfortably in the orthopaedic shoe at six weeks after your operation.
Following this, there will still be swelling and it can take many months for the swelling to fully subside.
Over 90% of people will be very happy after their bunion corrections but the significant rehabilitation required should not be underestimated.
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