For many, a bunion has been a progressively problematic companion over the years—a source of pain, awkwardness, stiffness, and embarrassment. And if bunions have been prevalent in your life, it can be easy to believe that only drastic measures are capable of providing you with any relief.
However, good bunion treatment DOESN’T necessarily mean surgery! It’s really about getting you back to doing the things you love without pain or restriction, in the simplest and least disruptive way possible.
And while it’s true that treating a bunion at an earlier stage of its development will typically give you a better shot at staying off the surgical table, even many bunions that have been around as long as you remember can benefit from conservative forms of treatment.
But before learning more about potential treatments, however, it pays to know more about what a bunion actually is.
What Having a Bunion Means
While the “bony bump” of a bunion takes the spotlight, the problem encapsulates the entire joint at the base of the toe, as well as the surrounding tissues that support it.
The metatarsophalangeal joint (which we will definitely just refer to as the “MTP joint” from now on) normally operates like any other joint, staying in a relatively stable position and moving within its range of motion. Sometimes, however, an instability can form in the MTP joint, causing the big toe to begin to shift.
As the toe shifts inward, the MTP joint begins to bulge outward, developing that familiar bump. You may also experience:
- Redness and swelling.
- Pain and tenderness.
- Stiffness and a restricted range of motion in the toe.
- Calluses or corns, either on the bump itself or where the big toe and its neighbors rub together.
- Hardened skin on the bottom of the foot.
So what caused the joint to become instable in the first place? In many cases, it’s an inherited condition. If bunions run in your family, chances are high that this is the situation.
Other factors that can destabilize a joint include past trauma to the area, as well as certain types of arthritis. In particular, inflammatory types of arthritis—such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout—can be especially damaging.
Footwear choices can also have an influence, although there is some debate as to exact extent of those influences.
It is argued that high heels and other forms of footwear that place excess pressure on the front of the foot do not actually cause bunions, per se. However, even if they don’t, they certainly make existing bunions worse. If you saw a loose lamppost, would you lean on it? Wearing these types of shoes with a bunion is basically doing the same kind of thing!
So What Can Be Done to Treat a Bunion?
A big point to keep in mind about bunions is that nothing other than surgery will ever make one disappear. Stretches or other conservative “treatments” that promise to shift a toe back to its original alignment and make a bunion vanish is pure junk.
And even if such treatments were to exist, they still wouldn’t address the fundamental instability in the MTP joint. Your bunion would just begin to develop again. Even some forms of bunion surgery have this result, which is why surgery is not always recommended. (More on this later.)
The primary goal of bunion treatment is not, as strange as this might initially sound, getting rid of the bunion itself. No, the main goals are rather:
- Addressing and relieving symptoms as best as possible, including pain, discomfort, and limited mobility.
- Taking measures to help prevent the bunion from becoming worse, or at least significantly slow the progress.
Bunion surgery is a big procedure. If a patient can find substantial relief via conservative methods, they will often be recommended instead.
Conservative treatments can include the following. We can recommend a comprehensive treatment plan once we have fully examined your bunion and understand how it affects your daily life:
- Changes to footwear. This can include switching to shoes that fit properly, provide more toe room, and do not place excess pressure against the front of the foot.
- Padding and protective gear. Anything that provides a barrier between the toes and friction points can help prevent sores, calluses, and blisters. This can include pads, rings, and toe splints.
- Custom orthotics. In cases where an abnormality in foot structure is placing stress on the MTP joint, custom orthotics can help redistribute weight away from it and other “hot spots.”
- Anti-inflammatory medications. These often take the form of oral medications, but injections might sometimes be recommended.
If conservative measures do not bring the results we would hope for, or it is clear from the start that the case is severe enough warrant it, then bunion surgery will be considered. There are multiple types of bunion procedures that can be performed, so full details are best left to a direct discussion between you and one of our doctors. However, be assured that you would be in good hands before, during, and after a surgical procedure.