All feet change shape over time to some degree—they tend to get a little wider and a little flatter as we age. That’s normal.
However, here’s what isn’t normal: a giant, hard, bony bump growing off the side of your foot!
That would be a bunion, and even if it doesn’t bother too much you now, it will only get worse (and more painful) the longer you try to ignore it.
Fortunately, treatments are available—and if you act quickly enough, you may even be able to avoid surgery, or at least delay it as long as possible.
What is a Bunion?
Bunions are relatively common foot deformities that, as we said, are most obviously distinguished by the formation (and growth) of a large, bony bump along the inside of the foot, at the base of the big toe.
At the same time, the big toe itself becomes misaligned, drifting further and further toward the other toes. In a severe bunion, the big toe may even cross overtop the second toe.
Both of these external symptoms are the result of instability in the joint at the base of the big toe.
Other potential symptoms and complications may include:
- Stiffness, soreness, or arthritis in the toe joint
- Development of corns and calluses where the bunion or toes rub against shoes (or each other)
- Difficulty wearing certain shoes or performing certain activities comfortably
What Causes Bunions?
We aren’t always 100% sure why bunions form for some people. However, there is a common set of underlying risk factors associated with the development or progression of bunions:
- Foot types. Certain foot shapes and structures may be more likely to lead to bunions—especially if that foot shape creates extra pressure on the big toe joint.
- Bunions tend to run in families, most likely because you inherited a foot type that is more prone to them.
- High heels, shoes that constrict or cramp the toes, or just don’t fit properly will at least aggravate your bunions and may accelerate their progression. It’s unclear whether they can cause them on their own, however.
- You may have suffered a specific injury (such as a stubbed toe) that destabilized the big toe joint.
- Other conditions. People with conditions like hammertoes or rheumatoid arthritis may be more susceptible to developing bunions as well.
How Are Bunions Treated?
If your bunion is not severe and you are still able to get through your daily activities, we may be able to help you manage the situation conservatively. This will not fix the bunion, but our main goal is to allow you to live your ideal lifestyle without restriction. If conservative treatments can do that for you, we encourage you to take that route.
However, more severe bunions that are getting in the way of full, healthy living and cannot be managed conservatively will most likely need surgical correction.
Depending on the current state of your bunions, we may be able to help you manage symptoms and improve function with treatments or strategies such as:
- Padding the bunion or toes to reduce friction pressure, corns, and calluses
- Taping or splinting the toe so that sits in a more normal alignment (if it is still flexible enough to do so)
- Shoe inserts or custom orthotics to lessen pressure on the big toe joint, and in some cases even slow the progression of the bunion.
- Switching to a more comfortable and accommodating pair of shoes, or having your existing shoes adjusted to create more room for the front of the foot.
- Physical therapy exercises to relieve some tensions and strengthen muscles, tendons, and ligaments that stabilize the foot.
- Pain relief medications
Surgical Bunion Correction
Unfortunately, many bunions will eventually require a surgical correction in order to restore foot function and allow you to live your lifestyle unencumbered by pain.
But there’s good news here.
The first is that, while surgery is obviously not a “fun” outcome, bunion surgery is highly successful on average and mot people are able to make a complete recovery, provided they follow their post-surgical instructions carefully.
The second is that Dr. Joel Foster is trained in minimally invasive surgical techniques, which may in some (although not all) cases be appropriate for bunions. Provided we can perform the surgery safely and effectively, we always try to use the smallest possible incisions to do the work. This offers many benefits to the patient, including faster recovery, lower risk of infection, less scaring, and even lower cost.
That said, there are a variety of surgical techniques that may be used for bunion repairs, including osteotomies, tendon transfers, joint fusions, and more. Each comes with its own sets of pros and cons; we will always take as much time as necessary to explain all your options and help you make the best possible choice for your situation and lifestyle.
So, if you want to keep your feet in good shape—or if necessary, correct your bunion and get your life back—give us a call today at (816) 246-4222.