So, you've noticed a bump starting to form on the side of your foot, just below the big or baby toe. And you're starting to think it may be a problem. Well, we've got news and bad news. The good: you're right, bumpy feet are a big deal. The bad? You're likely starting to develop a bunion. So here's what you need to know:
What are bunions and what can I do about them?
We use the term 'bunion' to describe any bump around the area of your big toe joint. (We call it a bunionette or tailor's bunion if it shows up around your baby toe joint.) But, within the category of 'bunion,' you could be facing several different conditions.
Sometimes, that bunion is a hallux valgus (the technical term for bunion) or arthritis (hallux limitus). Other times, it's something completely different: the first symptoms of a gout attack, or even a cyst or mass. But even when it's not a hallux vallux or limitud, it's rare that bumps on your feet are nothing to worry about.
Why is that the case? Please allow us to switch to doctor-speak here for a moment. When using the more technical term for bunion (hallux abductovalgus), we can see that there is more to the problem than just the visible bump. In fact, the true issues are several: it's the shifting position of your big toe, which starts curving toward the smaller toes; it's the prominence, which makes walking more difficult and fitting into shoes nearly impossible. But it's about also the rotational position of your bones that leads to this 'bunion' deformity.
And because the issues surrounding bunion development are so involved, we now approach bunion treatments in whole new way. That means your treatment plan should not just involve removing the bump. Instead, we must also focus on repositioning the bone behind the big toe, so that the results of your correction last much longer.
Recently, however, the school of thought has shifted to even more agressive treatments. In fact, some foot experts now advocate for a more aggressive correction, in the form of a procedure call the Lapidus. This is a surgery with the potential to correct all positional abnormalities associated with bunions. But it is a more serious intervention, as it involves fusing a joint in the middle of your foot.
Initial Bunion Treatment Options
If you're starting to panic over the idea of surgery, hold that thought for a moment. If you come into the office at the first hint of a change in your foot shape, we can begin addressing the problem with less invasive treatment options. Because bunions involve biomechanical issues like bone rotation, we can often stop their progression by prescribing custom orthotics for you to wear. Padding small bunions can also help prevent some of the discomfort and irritation associated with this bony bump. Changing your footwear, and choosing more supportive shoes with room in the footbox, can also help keep existing bunions from getting bigger. Of course, it won't correct any existing structural changes. And, down the road, that could become a problem. In fact, research now suggests that delaying bunion treatment could lead to arthritis problems down the road.
The Connection Between Bunions and Arthritis
As we already mentioned, some bony bumps on your feet are actually signs of arthritis (hallux limitus.) But, as it turns out, when left untreated, hallux valgus bunions can cause you to develop osteoarthritis. Why is that the case? As bunions develop, they change your gait (the way you walk). And they can cause your stiff big toe bones to rub against other toe bones, causing inflammation, irritation and, over time, osteoarthitis (arthritis in your bones.) So, while you may not want to surgically address your bunions right away, you should certainly see your podiatrist as soon as you see a change in the silhouette of your foot. Delaying treatment is a big mistake, because your problem will only get bigger, and will likely lead to future foot problems down the road!