Bunions are a very common and often inherited deformity of the foot. They appear as a protrusion on the medial side of the foot, where the largest joint of the big toe lies. They can vary from a slight bump at the base of the toe with the toe relatively straight to a significant bump with the big toe folding under or over the second toe. Bunions can be painful and make shoe-wearing difficult. But can bunions be corrected without surgery?
Let’s look at what causes bunions, what they are, and how they can be corrected and relieved. We’ll discuss treatment for bunions without surgery and answer the questions once and for all, is bunion correction without surgery possible?
First, what are bunions?
Bunions are the misalignment of bones within the foot, causing a bone bump or protrusion at the major joint of the big toe. Bunions affect up to ⅓ of Americans.
On X-rays, the long bone (known as the first metatarsal bone) makes a sharp angle to the second metatarsal (known as the intermetatarsal). The big toe then makes a turn towards the second toe, known as the hallux abductus angle. The larger these angles are, the more severe the bunion is.
Bunions can be found in all age groups but are more common in adults.
What causes bunions to form?
Bunion formation can often be the result of genetics when congenital or developed as a juvenile. However, doctors and scientists believe they could also result from lifestyle factors. The shape and structure of the foot are inherited, but wearing ill-fitting shoes, narrow, or pointed shoes, can contribute to the development or worsening of the condition.
While it is true that wearing pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes can accelerate the process of bunion formation, the root of why bunions form is heredity; children can demonstrate the beginning signs of bunion formation as early as at birth, and children born with Down syndrome almost universally have bunion deformity.
Do bunions need surgery?
While surgery is not required for bunions that don’t bother you, bunions will worsen over time if not corrected, and can become painful. Because of the nature of foot mechanics, while we walk and run, bunions can cause pain throughout these activities in one of two ways:
- The bunion can compress a nerve causing burning, sharp pain, or numbness in the big toe and foot
- The bunion may irritate the big toe, or other toes if the big toe inturned significantly inward
Unfortunately, there is no way to correct bunions without surgery. However, mild bunions that do not cause pain or discomfort may not affect the quality of life or other elements of good health. In short, if you have a bunion and it’s painful, you should see a podiatrist to discuss your options, including surgery.
If you're not ready for surgery, there are other non-surgical treatments for bunion pain. Some of these include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wear properly fitting, comfortable shoes with wide toe-boxes and low heels. Avoid pointy and narrow shoes.
- Use custom orthotics or orthotic shoe inserts, bunion pads, and moleskin to adjust the fit/comfort of your shoe.
- Soak your feet in warm water and Epsom salt foot bath, cool them with an ice pack, or elevate them after a long day.
- Use bunion splints or similar devices to hold the toe in alignment when not walking or running (with the guidance of a podiatrist)
- Manage pain relief with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
Where can I find a bunion surgeon near me?
If you think you might have a bunion or are experiencing foot pain when you walk, run, or jump, it could be a good idea to speak to a podiatrist. Severe bunions and many moderate bunions are recommended for surgery, but a professional podiatrist will help you determine whether bunion surgery is necessary.
Essex Union Podiatry is ready to handle your foot and ankle challenges, including bunions. Get in touch with us today to schedule an appointment or ask a surgeon a question about your feet. Our experts are ready to help!