Bunions can make your feet sad, but they don't mean you need to go under the surgical knife!


Today, we're going to talk about bunions: what they are, why they develop, and how I can treat them. 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 are bony growths that develop on the side of your foot, either at the base of your big toe or your little toe. (There, it's called a tailor’s bunion.) When the growths develop, your big or little toe joint becomes enlarged. And that forces it to crowd against your neighboring toes. This crowding puts pressure on your joint, pushing it outward. That's when it grows beyond the normal profile of your foot. And it's also when you see the bump that characterizes a typical bunion.

Now, bunions are pretty common. In fact, one Australian survey estimates they affect 23% of the adult population. But why do people get bunions in the first place? Bunions tend to run in families. So your root cause is probably genetic. But bunions may develop sooner or at a faster rate because of your own choices. That could mean wearing improper footwear or physical abnormalities that may worsen with time.

Whenever they form, bunions are painful and unsightly. And the only way to get rid of them forever 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 your symptoms in other ways. In fact, we've got non-invasive treatments that can make your bunions less bothersome. If you notice them at all.

You can also stop your bunion progression. That way, it won'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 bunions

Before you start slipping into a surgical gown, you should know there are other options. So ask me about these other treatment options when you come in for a bunion consult.

1. Swap your sneaks

Choosing footwear that is roomy in the toe area will take the pressure off your bunion. (An that translates to less pain.) It also may prevent your toes from pushing your bunion into further protuberance. Shoes with good arch support may also relieve pressure from the sides of your feet.

Custom orthotics can help prevent further bunion development by taking pressure off your toe joints


2. Go for orthotics

Low arches and flat feet can contribute to bunion growth. You can make up for these issues with a custom orthotic. And that 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. This can reduce any swelling around that bony bump, minimizing 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. But they won't make it easier to wear your favorite shoes. And they can't keep your bunion from growing.


5. Get padding

Placing moleskin or felt patches over your bunion and the surrounding area is a pain-management solution. This keeps your shoes from rubbing against your sore spots. So they stop causing discomfort.

But remember, choosing a bunion pad is different from buying a so-called bunion corrector. Bunion correctors are devices that claim to straighten out your big toe joint. Manufacturers claim that these devices could realign your joint and correct bunions in the process.

Unfortunately, studies show that these correctors can't realign your joint. While they may offer pain relief, bunion correctors can't live up to the promise in their name. You'd be better off sticking with less expensive, less obtrusive pain relief options.

6. Work it out

Strengthening the muscles that control your big toe may keep your bunion from getting bigger. Not sure how to get a work out for your toes? Try these suggestions. First, use your fingers to (gently) bring your big (or baby) toe back into alignment. Hold it there for 10 seconds, then repeat the exercise several times. You can also try picking things up with your toes. Or, you can walk barefoot on the sand for toe strengthening and a gentle massage.


Please note here that I'm suggesting walking barefoot on sand only. (And if you have diabetes, you should probably choose a different method for strengthening your toes.)

If you already have bunions, and want to explore surgery alternatives, you need to come in as soon as you note changes in your foot shape. Why is that so important?

Well, in my Houston podiatry practice, I always start with less invasive treatment options. But those work best with smaller bunions. So, if you are struggling with bunions, come and see me right away. That will help us discuss the best way to keep you walking comfortably.  And it will maximize the available options for your pain relief.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.