Treatment Options for Bunions

Are there ways to treat bunions other than with surgery?

Do you know one of those people who are always saying to look on the bright side of things? That there is a silver lining to every cloud? What do you suppose the odds are that they have ever struggled with a bunion? Not very likely! Bunions are painful. Ugly. And they make buying shoes a nearly impossible task. There is no bright side to a bunion.

All of that said, bunions are extremely common. It is estimated that somewhere in the range of half of all women in the U.S. have them. Men also have bunions but not nearly as often, because one of the main contributors to their development is the practice of wearing shoes that squeeze the foot at the base of the toes. Narrow shoes with high heels that force the foot into a tight, unnatural shape are thought by many to be the ideal environment for producing bunions. 

What Is a Bunion?

Bunions develop slowly, over time. When something creates ongoing pressure on the big toe, causing it to lean or move toward the second toe, the structure of the bone is gradually changed. The result is an extra growth of bone that protrudes out from the side of the foot. It looks like a reddish bump, and the skin may appear stretched and shiny. Wearing shoes and the pressure experienced while walking can be very painful. 

You may not know the exact cause of your bunion. Besides wearing restrictive or poorly fitting shoes, bunions can be the result of medical conditions, like arthritis, or due to heredity, obesity, birth defects and poor posture. As unpleasant as they are all by themselves, left untreated, they can contribute to the development of other conditions, including hammertoe, bursitis and metatarsalgia. 

Treatment Options for Bunions

Although the only way to remove or reduce the size of a bunion is through surgery, it is not often recommended. Only in those cases where the quality of life is being significantly affected by bunion pain that cannot be controlled through conservative, noninvasive methods is surgery considered the better option. It is never recommended solely for cosmetic reasons.

Your orthopedist will initially suggest some combination of these non-surgical treatment methods for bunions:

  • Rest, icing and elevation
  • Better shoe choices that are comfortable and have adequate space so that the foot is not compressed
  • Inserts, especially custom orthotics can reduce pain and discomfort
  • OTC pads that fit around the bunion and relieve the pressure
  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications
  • Cortisone injections

In these non-surgical methods are not successful in reducing the pain, there are several different surgical procedures that can be performed, the most commonly used being osteotomy and soft tissue release. Basically, the goal of all the methods is to correct the alignment of the big toe. The surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis. Supportive footwear, like a post-surgery boot, as well as the use of crutches, will be necessary. Recovery typically takes around 3 months and physical therapy may be recommended. 

If you have questions about bunions or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.