6 Non-Surgical Ways to Treat Bunions

Today, we're going to talk about bunions: what they are, why they develop, and how they can be treated. Why? Because, as a Houston podiatrist, I always want you to know that you have options when it comes to treating your foot problems. And those options don't always have to involve a surgical procedure. 

What is a bunion and why does it form? Bunions can make your feet sad, but they don't mean you need to go under the surgical knife!

Bunions are bony growths that develop on the side of your foot, either at the base of your big toe or your little toe (tailor’s bunion.) When the growths develop, your big or little toe joint becomes enlarged, forcing it to crowd against your neighboring toes. This crowding puts pressure on your joint, pushing it outward so that it grows beyond the normal profile of your foot. That's when you see the bump that characterizes a typical bunion.

Why do people get bunions in the first place? Bunions tend to run in families, but they may develop sooner or at a faster rate as a result of improper footwear or physical abnormalities. They’re painful, they’re unsightly and the only way to really get rid of them is with surgery. I know, I just finished saying you wouldn't need surgery. So what gives? Once your foot has developed a bump, you can only get rid of that bump with foot surgery. 

But just because you can’t cure bunions without an operation doesn’t mean you can’t manage the symptoms to the point where they barely bother you, if at all. You can also stop the progression of your bunion so that it doesn't grow to a size where it impedes your ability to fit into shoes, or walk without pain. Sound good? Check out these six non-invasive ways to deal with bunions.

Non-surgical treatment options to manage bunion growth

Before you start slipping into a surgical gown, consider discussing these minimally invasive treatment options with your podiatrist: 

Custom orthotics can help prevent further bunion development by taking pressure off your toe joints1. Swap your sneaks
Choosing footwear that is roomy in the toe area will take the pressure off your bunion (translation: less pain) and may prevent the bunion from being pushed into further protuberance. Shoes with good arch support may also relieve pressure from the sides of your feet.

2. Go for orthotics
Low arches and flat feet can contribute to bunion growth; correcting these issues with a custom orthotic may stem the growth of your bunion.

3. Ice, ice, baby
Place a thin cloth over your bunion then apply ice for between 10 and 20 minutes to ease the pain. OTC pain meds may help manage discomfort as well.

4. Some like it hot
For those who hate a chill, warm soaks along with gentle foot massage have also been know to stop the bunion hurt.

5. Get padding
Placing moleskin or felt patches over your bunion and the surrounding area will keep shoes from directly running your sore spots and causing more discomfort.

6. Work it out
Strengthening the muscles that control your big toe may keep your bunion from getting bigger. Try these suggestions: Use your fingers to (gently) bring your big (or baby) toe back into alignment. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat several times; pick things up with your toes; walk barefoot on the sand for toe strengthening and a gentle massage.

In my Houston podiatry practice, I always begin treatment with less invasive options. If you are struggling with bunions, come and see me so we can discuss the best way to keep you walking comfortably.  

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.