Hallux abductovalgus (HAV) or bunion, is a commonly seen deformity of the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MPJ) in which the hallux is abducted and everted, frequently overriding the second toe. Although the terms HAV and bunion are often used synonymously (as is done in this paper), it should be noted that a bunion actually refers to the callus and inflamed adventitious bursa overlying the HAV deformity. Even though bunions have been described in the medical literature for several hundred years (the word bunion is believed to be derived from the Latin, bunio, meaning turnip), there continues to be much controversy concerning its etiology. This is most likely because the development of HAV is multifactorial, stemming from a variety of structural and functional aberrancies.
Bunions are a result of complex biomechanical changes that occur in your feet. The type of footwear that you wear does cause bunions. We know that foot bunions occur in about 30% of the population of most Western countries but only 3% in Eastern countries. They are seen most commonly in women and become more common as people get older. Tight-fitting shoes are thought to be the main cause of bunions.. Shoes such as high heels and shoes with tight toe boxes (eg womens fashion shoes and cowboy boots) are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot bed and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to bear your weight, which encourages your forefoot to widen. Also, the angle pushes your toes into the narrow toe box, causing the toes to become angled and squeezed together.
SymptomsSince the pain from a bunion is always aggravated by shoe wear, the symptoms will often depend on the type and size of shoes worn. The perception of pain or discomfort that people experience is quite varied. There are some individuals who have small bunions that are very uncomfortable. This limits their ability to wear shoes comfortably. On the other hand, some individuals may have quite significant deformities that are annoying but do not limit their activities in anyway.
Diagnosis begins with a careful history and physical examination by your doctor. This will usually include a discussion about shoe wear and the importance of shoes in the development and treatment of the condition. X-rays will probably be suggested. This allows your doctor to measure several important angles made by the bones of the feet to help determine the appropriate treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are many treatment options for bunions and they will vary with the type and severity of each bunion and will also depend on what is causing the symptoms. Bunions are almost always progressive and tend to get larger and more painful with time, how fast this happens may be a function of the fit of the footwear. The initial goal of treatment options is to relieve pressure on the bunion and any symptoms that may be present and to halt or slow the progression of the joint deformity. There is no effective may be "get rid off" a bunion without surgery. There are a number of things that individuals and Podiatrists can do to help the symptoms and slow (if not halt) progression.
Bunion surgery is usually done as an out patient procedure, so the patient does not have to stay in hospital overnight although it is usually performed under a general anesthetic. The procedure involves the surgeon making a cut on the inside of the big toe joint and removing excess bone whilst also repositioning ligaments and tendons. The joint may be fixed with screws or wires, which may be dissolve, or may be removed at a later date or in some cases, remain in the foot permanently. After the operation the foot will be immobilized, often in a cast for 4 to 8 weeks to keep the bones in alignment. Crutches will usually be issued to help the patient get around. After this period, the foot will be assessed to check the bones have healed correctly. At which point full weight bearing may be gradually introduced.
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