The best thing to say about the natural history of bunions is that they are unpredictable. This is both in terms of whether the bunion deformity will progress, and also whether the bunion will become painful (if it is not already painful). It would probably however be true to say that once a previously painfree bunion has started to become painful it is not common for the bunion to go back to being entirely pain-free.
Foot problems typically develop in early adulthood and get worse as the foot spreads with aging. For many people, bunions run in the family. They may be just one of several problems due to weak or poor foot structure. Bunions sometimes develop with arthritis. In people with leg length discrepancies, bunions usually form in the longer leg. Women are especially prone to developing bunions. Years of wearing tight, poorly fitting shoes especially high-heeled, pointed shoes can bring on bunions. Such shoes gradually push the foot bones into an unnatural shape.
Look for an angular, bony bump on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe. Sometimes hardened skin or a callus covers this bump. There's often swelling, redness, unusual tenderness, or pain at the base of the big toe and in the ball of the foot. Eventually, the area becomes shiny and warm to the touch. Seek medical advice if you have persistent pain when walking normally in otherwise comfortable, flat-soled shoes, you may be developing a bunion, bursitis, or a bone spur in your foot.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunion pain can be successfully managed in the vast majority of cases by switching to shoes that fit properly and don't compress the toes. Your orthopaedic surgeon can give you more information about proper shoe fit and the types of shoes that would be best for you. Follow these general points of shoe fit. Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Judge the shoe by how it fits on your foot. Select a shoe that conforms as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot. Have your feet measured regularly. The size of your feet change as you grow older. Have both feet measured. Most people have one foot larger than the other. Fit to the largest foot. Fit at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8" to 1/2") for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits well into the widest part (ball pocket) of the shoe. Do not purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to "stretch" to fit. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slippage. Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits and feels right. (Fashionable shoes can be comfortable.) Some shoes can be modified by stretching the areas that put pressure on your toes. Splints to reposition the big toe and orthotics (special shoe inserts shaped to your feet) also may relieve pain. For bunions caused by arthritis, medications can be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.
Larger bunions are commonly treated with the Lapidus Bunionectomy, which involves realigned the displaced bone at its bottom, through a bone mending/fusion procedure. It is with this technique where the the walking advances have been made int he past decade. The Lapidus Bunionectomy has become a popular surgical method since surgeons have become more comfortable with mobilizing their patients post-operatively. Though not all surgeons who perform this procedure have adopted this postoperative protocol.