Although a relatively minor ailment, bunions can have a major impact on the quality of your life if they aren’t treated properly. While surgery is the only way to eliminate a bunion once it has formed, there are plenty of conservative treatment options to relieve symptoms and stop the deformity from worsening.
What is a Bunion?
A bunion is a painful, bony bump that forms on the base of the big toe at the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. They develop slowly as excessive pressure on the MTP joint causes the big toe to drift out of alignment towards the second toe. Gradually, the bone structure at the joint changes, resulting in a bunion. If left untreated, the deformity will increase steadily, eventually making it difficult to wear shoes and walk.
What Causes Bunions to Form?
Three main risk factors can lead to a bunion deformity:
- Improper Footwear: Tight-fitting shoes, particularly those with a narrow toe-box, often squeeze the toes together and force them into an unnatural position. Footwear that displaces weight onto the front of the foot, such as high heels, can also encourage the big toe to shift inward.
- Pre-existing Conditions: Foot injuries, inefficient arch support, and pre-existing conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis can stress the MTP joint, causing problematic stress and inflammation.
- Genetics: Unfortunately, some individuals inherit a predisposition for developing bunions due to their foot structure and anatomy. For that reason, bunions typically run in families.
What Can I Do to Treat a Bunion?
Depending on the severity, a bunion is manageable without surgical intervention. While conservative measures will not reduce the bunion’s size or correct it permanently, they can help alleviate pain and prevent the deformity from worsening. That way, you can continue to enjoy a normal range of physical activity without being restricted by your bunion.
Conservative treatment methods that we recommend include:
- Changes in Footwear: Choose comfortable, supportive shoes with a roomy toe box that can accommodate your bunion and doesn’t compress the toes. If you need some help selecting fashionable yet functional footwear, we suggest visiting The Right Shoe in Lititz!
- Orthotic Devices: Orthotic inserts, both prefabricated and custom-made, can provide added support for the big toe joint and help distribute pressure more evenly while you walk.
- Padding: Non-medicated bunion-shield pads work well to cushion the bunion and avoid painful friction. These can be purchased at most drugstores and pharmacies.
- Physical Therapy: Regular exercise and targeted stretches can improve the stability of the MTP joint, strengthen muscles and ligaments, and reduce inflammation in the forefoot.
- Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory ointments can alleviate bunion pain. Applying ice or heat can also reduce swelling and discomfort. If the pain becomes severe, your doctor may prescribe a more intense medication or a cortisone injection.
If your bunion continues to diminish your quality of life despite using these conservative treatments, then surgery may be necessary. For more information about corrective surgery or to schedule an appointment with one of our expert podiatric surgeons, visit our contact page or call our main office at (717) 757-3537.