The foot is roughly divided into three sections: the hind-foot or heel, the mid-foot and the forefoot and toes. The function of the toes, particularly the big toe, is primarily for balance and propulsion.
The 14 bones of the toes are among the smallest in the body, and problems often occur. Some problems begin in childhood and may go unnoticed. Others develop later on in life. They can also occur as the result of injury or from the added pressure of incorrect footwear.
What are bunions?
The more correct name for a bunion is ‘hallux abducto valgus’ (HAV). In a normal foot, the big toe and the long bone that leads up to it (the first metatarsal) are in a straight line. HAV refers to the condition in which the big toe is angled excessively towards the second toe. The excess bony lump to the side of the big toe that is commonly termed as a ‘bunion’, is actually a symptom of the deformity. A sac of fluid between the skin and the joint, known as a ‘bursa’ can form, which can become inflamed and painful.
Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by HAV and can also help to prevent it from becoming worse over time. Non-surgical treatments include: painkillers, padding, orthotics that alter foot movement, anti-inflammatories, stretching and suitable footwear.
Surgery is the only way to correct a HAV. Untreated it is likely to deteriorate. If it causes significant pain and affects your quality of life, your GP may refer you for surgery. The aim of surgery is to relieve pain and improve the alignment of your big toe. Surgery is not usually carried out for cosmetic reasons alone. Even after surgery, there are likely to be limits to the styles of shoe you can wear.