Many of us take the health of our feet for granted. That is until you start to experience some sort of pain or discomfort.
A bunion is one of the most common conditions that can cause foot pain and inhibit your movement.
Advanced bunions may require surgery as a last resort. However, non-surgery bunion treatments are available to alleviate the inflammation and pain associated with this foot condition.
Read on to learn more about non-surgical options for treating bunions.
What Are Bunions?
Bunions are a condition in which certain bones in your foot known as metatarsal bones are bent out of shape to cause the big toe joint to protrude. The more the joint protrudes, the more the big toe pushes inwards and causes the smaller toes to overcrowd.
The big toe should ideally be straight. Any indentation that is more than 20 degrees will result in a bunion and should be treated immediately.
Once your metatarsal bones deform, the condition becomes permanent. Common treatment options include surgery and pain medication. However, experts recommend natural alternatives to managing bunions.
What Causes Bunions?
Several factors can increase the risk of developing bunions. These include:
Shoes: Narrow or tight-fitting shoes worn over prolonged periods can drastically increase your risk of developing unsightly bunions. Pointy high heels are a major contributing factor in the development of bunions.
Family history: Some studies show that a family history of toe deformities, including bunions, may increase a person’s risk of developing such toe problems. This is especially true among Caucasian people.
Problematic foot structure: Some people are born with faulty foot structures while others may develop these issues with age, increasing the risk for bunions.
The most ominous symptom of a bunion is a large protruding bump on the side of your big toe. One or more of the following symptoms may accompany such a protrusion:
- Joint stiffness in the affected toe
- Deformed smaller toes
- Redness, inflammation, tenderness, and pain in the affected joint
- Reduced movement of your larger toe
- Calluses and corns on the side of the foot
The pain that comes with bunions results from inflammation of the small fluid pockets close to your toe joint. Bunions on the larger toe may also end up causing smaller bunions underneath your little toe, increasing pain and immobility.
Surgery For Bunions
Although experts recommend seeking non-surgery treatments for bunions, sometimes surgery may be necessary especially if you neglect your bunions for too long.
Surgery is a permanent treatment for bunions. This process typically helps to eliminate the bone deformity and permanently prevent the protrusion from forming again.
Surgical options may be necessary if:
- Your bunion is unbearably painful
- The pain is affecting your mobility
- You are unable to wear your work shoes
On the downside, if you undergo bunion surgery, it can take anywhere between three to 12 months to fully recover.
In the first few months following surgery, you may be unable to go on with your day-to-day routine such as walking, working, driving your vehicle.
Bunion surgery may also increase the risk of nerve damage, infections, a weak large toe, and pain in other parts of the foot. Diabetic individuals and those who smoke may face post-surgical complications.
Non- Surgery Bunion Treatments
Surgery is often the last resort for the treatment of bunions. Considering the downsides of surgery, non-surgery bunion treatments can be a suitable alternative.
Here are some non-surgical options to help you manage bunions and gain relief from the pain associated with this foot condition.
Foot problems such as mid-foot instability can increase the risk of bunion development. Customized orthotic inserts placed in your shoes can help to correct the position of your foot and provide arch support to prevent worsening of bunions. Orthotic inserts can also help to relieve pressure on the bunion.
While bunion pads may not correct a faulty foot, they can help relieve friction and pressure on the bunion. These are easily accessible over the counter.
Common types of bunion pads include moleskin, toe spacers, and silicone sleeves. Moleskin acts as a barrier between your shoe and toe to prevent friction while toe spacers are attached between the large toe and the second to reposition the foot. Silicon sleeves, like moleskin, protect the bunion from the friction in your shoe.
Splints and Bracing
Toe splints can be attached to the affected big toe, mostly at night, to stretch and flex out the joint and prevent stiffening, which can be painful and make you immobile.
Bracing can also help to realign the toe back albeit temporarily. This is a short-term solution such that the big toe will go back to its deformed shape once you remove the brace.
Exercise and Stretching
Less demanding exercises such as swimming can help relieve pain and enhance mobility. These activities are also great for overall wellbeing.
Also, be sure to stretch your big toe regularly. Use your hands to gently wiggle the toe around to prevent joint stiffness and to improve toe positioning and mobility.
Avoid assertive exercises such as lunges and aerobics as these can put undue pressure at the bottom of your feet and aggravate your pain. Instead, opt for weight training or cycling.
Medication can relieve the pain and discomfort associated with bunions. However, use pain medication moderately and alongside other treatments methods.
Your bunion specialist may recommend several types of medications. Examples include:
BioFreeze: BioFreeze is a painkiller that you can apply topically to the affected toe and foot.
Lidocaine: Lidocaine is an aesthetic that comes in various forms. For bunions, opt for patches. These help to numb the affected tissues, giving you relief for up to 12 hours.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: These drugs reduce pain and inflammation. Your doctor may recommend that you take these orally, topically, or via injection in the affected toe.
Steroid injections: Steroid and even cortisone injections can be effective in alleviating bunion pain.
However, these can have a negative impact on the soft tissues of your skin and should be used in moderation.
Other types of injections such as amniotic membrane and plasma that is rich in platelet are also increasingly popular for alleviating bunion pain.
A bunion on your toe is not only unsightly but can also limit your lifestyle and be a source of great pain and discomfort.
The first step to managing your bunion is adopting better footwear habits. Avoid high heels and tight pointy shoes. Opt instead for comfortable shoes with a wide toe box to prevent bunion progression.
Low impact exercises, foot correcting aids, and medication may also help to manage your bunion.
Non-surgery bunion treatments will not cure bunions or return your toe to its ideal position. But these can help you live with bunions without drastic alterations to your lifestyle.