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.
Bunions are caused by a combination of factors, including a familial predisposition, and wearing high-heeled shoes that are tight and narrow at the front. Most bunions occur in women. Sometimes other foot problems accompany bunions, including calluses and hammertoes (angling downward of the lesser toes).
Your bunion may not cause any symptoms. Or you may have pain in your big toe, red or irritated skin over the bunion, and swelling at the base of the big toe. The big toe may point toward the other toes and cause problems in other toes, such as hammer toe . A bunionette can cause similar symptoms at the base of the little toe.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your bunion simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to determine the extent of your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever, as well as medication to relieve the swelling and inflammation. A heat pad or warm foot bath may also help relieve the immediate pain and discomfort. A few people may obtain relief with ice packs. If your bunion isn't persistently painful and you take action early on, changing to well-made, well-fitting shoes may be all the treatment you need. Your doctor may advise use of orthoses (devices that are used to improve and realign the bones of your foot), including bunion pads, splints, or other shoe inserts, provided they don't exert pressure elsewhere on the foot and aggravate other foot problems. In some cases, an orthotist (someone trained to provide splints, braces and special footwear to aid movement, correct deformity and relieve discomfort) can recommend shoes with specially designed insoles and uppers that take the pressure off affected joints and help the foot regain its proper shape.
To end persistent pain, your doctor may recommend a type of foot surgery called a bunionectomy to remove the bunion and perhaps to reshape the first toe joint. During the operation, the swollen tissue will be removed, the big toe will be straightened if necessary, and the bones of the affected joint may be reshaped or permanently joined. The goal of the surgery is to correct the cause of the bunion and to prevent the bunion from growing back. After surgery, pain medication will be prescribed, and you will be told when you can start moving your toes and ankle.
Bunions often become painful if they are allowed to progress. But not all bunions progress. Many bunion problems can be managed without surgery. In general, bunions that are not painful do not need surgical correction. For this reason, orthopaedic surgeons do not recommend "preventive" surgery for bunions that do not hurt; with proper preventive care, they may never become a problem.