What Is a Bunion?
A bunion is commonly referred to as a “bump” on the joint at the base of the big toe—the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint—that forms when the bone or tissue at the big toe joint moves out of place. The toe is forced to bend toward the others, causing an often painful lump of bone on the foot. Because this joint carries a lot of the body's weight while walking, bunions can cause extreme pain if left untreated. The MTP joint itself may become stiff and sore, making even the wearing of shoes difficult or impossible. A bunion—from the Latin "bunio," meaning enlargement—can also occur on the outside of the foot along the little toe, where it is called a "bunionette" or "tailor's bunion."
Bunions form when the normal balance of forces that is exerted on the joints and tendons of the foot becomes disrupted. This disruption can lead to instability in the joint and cause the deformity. Bunions are brought about by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the MTP joint. They are, therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are usually caused by the way we walk and our inherited foot type or our shoes.
Although bunions tend to run in families, it is the foot type that is passed down—not the bunion. Parents who suffer from poor foot mechanics can pass their problematic foot type on to their children, who in turn are prone to developing bunions. The abnormal functioning caused by this faulty foot development can lead to pressure being exerted on and within the foot, often resulting in bone and joint deformities such as bunions and hammertoes.
Other causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition.
Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women.
The symptoms of a bunion include the following:
What can you do for relief?
When to Visit a Podiatrist:
If pain persists, podiatric medical attention should be sought. Bunions tend to get larger and more painful if left untreated, making non-surgical treatment less of an option.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each bunion, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important in avoiding surgery. The primary goal of most early treatment options is to relieve pressure on the bunion and halt the progression of the joint deformity.
A podiatrist may recommend these treatments:
Padding and Taping: Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain.
Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammation caused by joint deformities.
Physical Therapy: Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.
Orthotics: Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity.
Surgical Options: When early treatments fail or the bunion progresses past the threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary to relieve pressure and repair the toe joint. Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatrist. The surgery will remove the bony enlargement, restore the normal alignment of the toe joint, and relieve pain.
A simple bunionectomy, in which only the bony prominence is removed, may be used for the less severe deformity. Severe bunions may require a more involved procedure, which includes cutting the bone and realigning the joint. Recuperation takes time, and swelling and some discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery. Pain, however, is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatrist. Your podiatrist wants you to have a satisfactory and speedy recovery, and this can be achieved by carefully following the postoperative instructions that you have discussed prior to and immediately after surgery.
There are some steps that may help prevent, or at least slow, the progression of bunions:
What are Warts?
Warts are one of several soft tissue conditions of the foot that can be quite painful. They are caused by a virus and can appear anywhere on the skin. Those that appear on the sole of the foot are called plantar warts. Children, especially teenagers, tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults. Some people seem to be immune to warts.
The virus that causes warts generally invades the skin through small or invisible cuts and abrasions. The plantar wart is often contracted by walking barefoot on dirty surfaces or littered ground where the virus is lurking. The causative virus thrives in warm, moist environments, making infection a common occurrence in communal bathing facilities.
If left untreated, warts can grow to an inch or more in circumference and can spread into clusters of several warts; these are often called mosaic warts. Like any other infectious lesion, plantar warts are spread by touching, scratching, or even by contact with skin shed from another wart. The wart may also bleed, creating another route for spreading. Occasionally, warts can spontaneously disappear after a short time, and, just as frequently, they can recur in the same location.
Most warts are harmless, even though they may be painful. They are often mistaken for corns or calluses, which are layers of dead skin that build up to protect an area which is being continuously irritated. The wart, however, is a viral infection.
Plantar warts tend to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries; warts are generally raised and fleshier when they appear on the top of the foot or on the toes. Plantar warts are often gray or brown (but the color may vary), with a center that appears as one or more pinpoints of black. It is important to note that warts can be very resistant to treatment and have a tendency to reoccur.
When plantar warts develop on the weight-bearing areas of the foot (the ball of the foot, or the heel, for example), they can be the source of sharp, burning pain. Pain occurs when weight is brought to bear directly on the wart, although pressure on the side of a wart can create equally intense pain.
Self-treatment is generally not advisable. Over-the-counter preparations contain acids or chemicals that destroy skin cells, and it takes an expert to destroy abnormal skin cells (warts) without also destroying surrounding healthy tissue. Self-treatment with such medications especially should be avoided by people with diabetes and those with cardiovascular or circulatory disorders. Never use these medications in the presence of an active infection.
When to Visit a PodiatristIt is wise to consult a podiatric physician when any suspicious growth or eruption is detected on the skin of the foot in order to ensure a correct diagnosis. It is possible for a variety of more serious lesions to appear on the foot, including malignant lesions such as carcinomas and melanomas. Although rare, these conditions can sometimes be misidentified as a wart.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
It is possible that your podiatric physician will prescribe and supervise your use of a wart-removal preparation. More likely, however, removal of warts by a simple surgical procedure, performed under local anesthetic, may be indicated.
Lasers have become a common and effective treatment. A procedure known as CO2 laser cautery is performed under local anesthesia in either your podiatrist's office surgical setting or an outpatient surgery facility. The laser reduces post-treatment scarring and is a safe form for eliminating wart lesions.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is damage of the peripheral nerves. Your peripheral nerves are the nerves that travel to your arms and legs. When the nerves are damaged, they don't function properly. People with peripheral neuropathy have decreased or abnormal sensation in their toes and fingers. Sometimes, they develop problems moving these parts of the body as well.
In the United States, the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy within their lifetime.
Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting or stabbing pain in the toes and/or fingertips. Any change in sensation in the fingers or toes may be a symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to report any abnormal sensations to your doctor. Those sensations may be the first sign of another problem, such as diabetes.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, it is important to inspect your feet regularly. Because decreased sensation may develop eventually, you might not notice an injury or infection. Someone who has diabetes and peripheral neuropathy with loss of protective sensation, for instance, could step on a tack without noticing it. Regularly inspect your feet so you can note any injuries or infections and seek appropriate medical attention as needed.
If you're unable to properly inspect your own feet, enlist a family member or friend to help you, or use a mirror. It's absolutely essential that any injuries are caught and treated promptly. Otherwise, an infection can develop and progress.
People with peripheral neuropathy should wear properly fitted shoes and avoid walking barefoot to prevent injury. If you have diabetes, it's important to control your blood sugar as well, because out-of-control blood sugar leads to increased nerve damage. Take your insulin or medication as prescribed and follow the recommended diet.
When to Visit a Podiatrist:
Everyone with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy of the feet should see a podiatrist. Podiatrists are doctors who are specially trained to preserve the health of the feet.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
A podiatrist, family physician, internist, or physician who specializes in diabetes can diagnose peripheral neuropathy. The diagnosis is made on the basis of a physical exam, health history, and your reporting of symptoms. The doctor may order a blood test to check your blood sugar level because high blood sugar levels and diabetes are an important cause of peripheral neuropathy.
There is no known cure for peripheral neuropathy. The goal of treatments are to slow the progression of the disease, to maintain foot health, and to decrease pain (if present) and improve the quality of life.
The podiatrist may prescribe oral medication to help with symptoms. He or she will also perform a thorough foot check to look for any injuries or infections and will teach you how to do the same. Your podiatrist will also show you how to take care of your feet at home. People who have peripheral neuropathy should have their feet examined by a podiatrist at least once per year.
If you also have diabetes, the podiatrist will work closely with you and other health-care professionals. Controlling the patient's blood sugar levels with diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) can slow the progression of peripheral neuropathy and maintain foot health.
The best thing you can do to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Peripheral neuropathy is common in people with diabetes, but the degree of neuropathy generally corresponds to the degree of blood sugar control. Someone whose blood sugar is kept under tight control will usually have much better sensation in their fingers and toes than someone with poorly controlled diabetes.
*Article by apma.org (used with permission)