So you’ve got buns–and not the cinnamon type. We’re talking about big ol’ bunions, otherwise known in the medical field by their latin term “hallux valgus.” They’re a nuisance, they don’t let you wear your favorite shoes, and more importantly, they can hurt. Whether genetically acquired, or a result of years of abnormal motion, one thing is clear: you’d like your bunions gone!
What exactly causes this bothersome bulge? Bunions are most often found on the inner foot near the big toe, but can sometimes be located on the fifth toe. While they can be painful, they’re actually a very common foot condition. Bunions arise from a biomechanical deformity. They develop when the first metatarsal bone in our feet turns outward and the big toe points inward, causing the joint to unpleasantly stick out. This misalignment puts pressure on the bursa. Bursae reside in the connective tissues of our bodies, and are fluid-filled sacs located at points of friction between a bone and the surrounding soft tissue. Even though they are tiny, they have a big role to play as our personal “pillows” between the bones, tendons, and muscles around a joint. Bunions occur when these cushions become inflamed and thickened, consequently creating painful and problematic bone formation that forces the toe out of alignment.
The most common symptoms of the pesky condition are: pain, redness, and extreme sensitivity. As the bunion growth progresses and the affected toe is pushed out of its natural place, it can even make it hard for people to do simple tasks such as walk. The interesting thing about bunions is that they are usually passed down from parents to children (the buns run in the family). However, they can also come about due to the manner in which we walk, or even the kind of shoes we wear. Shape (flat feet), action, pressure and movement are all possible factors. Some people have flexible joints and can tolerate bunions with less discomfort, but some might suffer from arthritis, causing stiff joints and increased pain.
All in all, bunions are no fun. Whether it’s sandal season or boot season, this condition can seriously impact your lifestyle–which is why we’re here to help! Treating bunions does not always require surgical intervention. In fact, there are many self-care and less invasive techniques to use which we will cover.
- Maintain a normal weight. Believe it or not, your weight can impact how badly your bunions bother you. This is because the joint at the base of our big toe carries much of our body’s weight while we walk.
- Wear the right shoes. Unfortunately, certain shoes can exacerbate certain foot conditions. In the case of bunions, heels are one of the shoes to try and avoid. The problem is they tip your body’s weight forward, forcing you to put immense pressure on your toes. In fact, according to research by Harvard University, women are ten times more likely to have bunions than men! Avoid narrow, pointy shoes and opt for a wider design that doesn’t squeeze your toes.
- Protect your bunions with pads. Cushions, gel-filled pads, moleskin, shoe inserts–there are numerous options to choose from. These devices will help you position your feet correctly, as well as absorb some of the discomfort.
- Opt for orthotics. These are molded shoe inserts that help to correct the mechanics that caused the bunions in the first place. Orthotics might keep the bunion from growing by keeping it in place and limiting abnormal movement.
- Em(brace) splints. Braces and splints are commonly used to help alleviate discomfort. While they won’t fix your bunions, they help keep your toe straight, thus minimizing pain. It may take a few tries to figure out which kind works best for you.
- Ice, ice baby. That’s right-the oldest trick in the book: apply ice. Of course, this won’t fix the problem, but it can help to numb pain by constricting blood vessels and reducing swelling.
- Try physical therapy. It might not repair the misalignment completely, but physical therapy can strengthen your foot muscles (including your toes). Types of exercises include stretching, or even pulling your big toe back into normal alignment for a few seconds at a time. You can even incorporate foot massages to relieve tension and pain.
- Use medication. We understand that some people aren’t fond of taking extensive amounts of medication for pain. Yet, sometimes it’s necessary. Over the counter anti-steroidal and anti-inflammatory pills such as Advil or Aleve might provide temporary relief.
- Surgery (last resort). Surgery is not only invasive and expensive, but requires post-operation recovery. We always encourage testing other treatment options before going under the knife. However, surgery truly is the only method proven to rectify bunions and the symptoms they cause. There are various procedures available performed by specialists.
- Visit Dynamic Foot and Ankle Center! We are more than happy to schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options with you. Your health and happiness is our priority.