Surgical & Non-Surgical Options for Bunions & Hammertoes
Bunions and hammer toes are ugly and cause a great deal of pain for those who are afflicted. Dr. Doug Lamb offers treatment options designed to relieve the pain and restore normal function.
What is a Bunion?
A bunion is a bone deformity caused by an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint) Bunions form when the toe moves out of place. The enlargement and its protuberance cause friction and pressure as they rub against footwear. Over time the movement of the big toe angles in toward the other toes, sometimes overlapping a third toe (known as Hallux Valgus). The growing enlargement or protuberance then causes more irritation or inflammation. In some cases, the big toe moves toward the second toe and rotates or twists, which is known as Hallus Abducto Valgus. Bunions can also lead to other toe deformities, such as hammertoe.
Many people with bunions suffer from discomfort and pain caused by the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction of the enlargement against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Over time, bursitis or arthritis may set in, the skin on the bottom of the foot may become thicker, and everyday walking may become difficult—all contributing to chronic pain.
Wearing shoes that are too tight is the leading cause of bunions. Bunions are not hereditary, but they do tend to run in families, usually because of a faulty foot structure. Foot injuries, neuromuscular problems, flat feet, and pronated feet can contribute to their formation. It is estimated that bunions occur in 33% of the population in Western countries.
Treatment for Bunions
Because they are bone deformities, bunions do not resolve by themselves. The goal for bunion treatment is twofold: first, to relieve the pressure and pain caused by irritations, and second to stop any progressive growth of the enlargement. Commonly used methods for reducing pressure and pain caused by bunions include:
Protective padding, often made from felt material, to eliminate the friction against shoes and help alleviate inflammation and skin problems
Removal of corns and calluses on the foot
Changing to carefully fitted footwear designed to accommodate the bunion and not contribute toward its growth.
Orthotic devices—both over-the-counter and custom made—to help stabilize the joint and place the foot in the correct position for walking and standing
Exercises to maintain joint mobility and prevent stiffness or arthritis
Splints for nighttime wear to help the toes and joint align properly. This is often recommended for adolescents with bunions, because their bone development may still be adaptable
Depending on the size of the enlargement, misalignment of the toe, and pain experienced, conservative treatments may not be adequate to prevent progressive damage from bunions. In these cases, bunion surgery, known as a bunionectomy, may be advised to remove the bunion and realign the toe.
Hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Left untreated, hammertoes can become inflexible and require surgery. People with hammertoe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Causes of hammertoe include improperly fitting shoes and muscle imbalance.
Treatment for the condition typically involves wearing shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes and toe exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles. Commercially available straps, cushions, or non-medicated corn pads may also relieve symptoms.
In severe cases, hammertoe surgery may be recommended to correct the deformity.