Normal foot with happy face next to bunion with unhappy faceA bunion is a bony protrusion that forms on the side of the foot when the big toe joint gets out of alignment. It can cause discomfort and pain, which can affect your daily activities. If conservative treatment options have not provided relief, surgery is often an option.

Common Causes of Bunions

There are several causes of bunions. They can be caused by the following factors:

  • Heredity
  • Injury to the foot
  • Foot deformity
  • Arthritis
  • Wearing tight shoes or high heels

Bunions that are left untreated can also lead to other foot conditions such as bursitis, hammertoe, or metatarsalgia. Those with a medical condition such as diabetes are at an increased risk for developing dangerous complications from untreated bunions, such as open sores and infections.

How Do You Know You Have a Bunion?

In addition to seeing a visible bump on the inside of the foot, there are other symptoms of bunions such as:

  • Swelling and redness near the side of the big toe
  • Burning or numbness
  • Big toe bending inward towards the other toes
  • Pain when wearing shoes
  • Pain and difficulty when walking
  • Calluses or corns

If you are experiencing symptoms of a bunion, consult with your podiatrist for an evaluation. Your podiatrist can typically diagnose a bunion by a physical exam of your foot. In addition, imaging tests such as an X-ray may be ordered to check for any damage or to determine the severity of the condition. A blood test may also be ordered to check for other complicating factors.

Bunion Treatment Options

Your podiatrist may recommend conservative treatments for mild bunions before surgery is considered. Some conservative treatments that may help reduce pain and pressure are:

  • Shoes. You may need to change shoes to ones that have extra room in the toe area to accommodate the bunion. Shoes should be cushioned and comfortable, so they do not add pain or pressure to your foot.
  • Bunion pads. You can purchase non-medicated bunion pads over the counter. These pads add cushioning between the shoe and your foot and can help relieve pain from pressure caused by the bunion rubbing against your shoe.
  • Orthotics. An orthotic can be used inside the shoe to help distribute pressure evenly when you walk. Orthotics can be custom-made to your exact specifications or purchased at a retailer.
  • Medication. A medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for pain.
  • Steroid injection. A cortisone steroid injection into the misaligned joint can reduce swelling and pain.
  • Ice. Ice can be applied to the bunion to reduce swelling and pain.

Bunion Surgery

If conservative treatment options for the bunion have not been successful, surgery is recommended. Bunion surgery is referred to as a bunionectomy. The goals of bunion surgery are to relieve any pain or pressure in the foot caused by the bunion, repair the damaged toe joint, and reset the proper alignment of the foot. Most often, bunion surgery is performed on one foot at a time, giving a period of recovery between foot surgeries. Bunion surgery is done as an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia.

Bunion surgery is recommended for those who are experiencing the following problems:

  • Pain is interfering with your daily activities.
  • You have difficulty walking or standing.
  • You cannot bend or straighten your big toe.
  • You have increased swelling and pain.
  • You are unable to find shoes that are comfortable and fit properly.

There are several options for bunion surgery, depending on your particular case. Some surgical procedures done for bunions include:

  • Arthrodesis. In an arthrodesis, the damaged joint is replaced with metal plates or screws.
  • Exostectomy. In an exostectomy, the bone that protrudes from the side of the foot is shaved off to allow shoes to fit more comfortably and to provide a cosmetic improvement to the foot.
  • Osteotomy. In an osteotomy, the big toe joint is cut and realigned into the proper position to fix the angle of the big toe joint.

These procedures can be done alone or in combination with one another. Your podiatrist will determine what method will work best for your exact condition.

Bunion Surgery Complications

Any surgery has its risks and complications. Bunion surgery has possible complications such as:

  • Numbness
  • Swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Slow healing time
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Need for a repeat surgery

Bunion Surgery Recovery and After Care

Recovery from bunion surgery depends on the person, type of surgery, and the severity of the bunion. It may be difficult to bear weight on the foot for weeks after surgery. After surgery, expect the following:

  • Pain medication and an antibiotic may be prescribed after surgery.
  • A surgical shoe will need to be worn to decrease swelling.
  • Crutches may be used to keep pressure off the foot.
  • Elevate the foot and apply ice to prevent throbbing pain and swelling.
  • After a few days post-surgery, you will need to start placing weight on the foot and walking.
  • Any bandages or dressings will need to be changed weekly.
  • Stitches will be removed after two weeks.
  • Daily stretching exercises will be recommended in order to regain mobility.

Your podiatrist will schedule follow-up appointments after surgery. At these appointments, an exam and X-rays will be done to determine if the surgery was successful or if anything else needs to be repaired.

Recovery time can take several weeks or several months. Once you have recovered, you should be able to return to normal activity and walk without pain. To prevent the bunion from returning, be sure to wear shoes that fit properly and have plenty of room in the toes. You may not be able to wear tight shoes or those with high heels.

Set Up an Appointment With an Experienced Podiatrist

If you have bunions that are preventing you from doing the things you need to do, the skilled specialists at Hermiston Family Foot Clinic can help. We will start with conservative measures to ease your discomfort but can also talk about surgical options if that is the best solution for you. Call our Hermiston, Oregon, office today at 541-567-8750 or fill out our convenient contact form online to set up an appointment.