It’s a common cry! Hardly a day passes without impassioned pleas from affected clients. “I hope you all could help me . . . I have bunions for the last 15 years and they‘re getting worse as I get older, and I’m only 25!
Another one complained – “I am at the point where no shoe is fitting me. When I put my foot into a shoe, I have to take it out right away because as soon as I put my weight on it, the pain is unbearable.”
A male client related, “I working offshore and my feet in steel tip boots for 14 hours… sometimes I feel as if the inside of it where my bone is, burning, not to mention when I get home.”
Complaints from the heart . . . So what IS a bunion? What really causes it to develop? And how can people be helped? The causes vary, and so does treatment.
The medical term for Bunions is Hallux Rigidus. It is an irregular bony enlargement (a bump), on the joint where your big toe meets the main bones of your foot. Studies show that the condition is approximately 10 times more common in women than men. Ballet dancers too many be affected.
Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years, and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which becomes increasingly prominent. The following are some of the main causes.
- Most often, an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot. It is not the bunion itself that is inherited, but certain foot types that make a person prone to developing a bunion.
- Wearing too tight shoes, namely pointed tips for women and narrow squared front for men
- Trauma or injury to the feet
- Rheumatoid or osteoarthritis
- Muscular imbalance as a consequence of genetic and neuromuscular diseases
Bunions don’t go away; they will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike – some bunions progress more rapidly than others and naturally, symptoms differ. Symptoms which occur at the site of the bunion may include:
- Pain or soreness
- Inflammation and redness
- A burning sensation
- Possible numbness
Sometimes observation of the bunion is all that’s needed. To reduce the chance of damage to the joint, periodic evaluations are advised.
In other cases, however, some type of treatment is recommended. Early treatments are aimed at easing the pain, but they won’t reverse the deformity itself. These include:
- Changes in footwear – wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes that have a wide toe box and forgo those with pointed toes or extremely high heels which may aggravate the condition.
- Exercise – stretching to keep the joint flexible, including big toe pulls, and marble or pencil grabs, with both the pulls and grabs to be done barefooted.
- Activity modification – avoid activity that causes bunion pain, including standing for long periods of time.
- Icing – applying an ice pack helps reduce inflammation and pain.
- Bunion Regulators – can reduce the size of the bunion. It helps with straightening while you sleep.
- Orthotic Supports – custom arch supports may be recommended to slow the progression of the bunion.
When Is Surgery Needed?
If non-surgical treatments fail to relieve bunion pain, and when the pain of a bunion interferes with daily activities, it’s time to discuss surgical options with an orthopedic surgeon. Together you can decide if surgery is best for you.
A variety of surgical procedures is available to treat bunions. The procedures are designed to remove the “bump” of bone, correct the changes in the bony structure of the foot, and correct soft tissue changes that may also have occurred. The goal of surgery is to firstly reduce pain and possibly make nice looking feet.
In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, the orthopedic surgeon will take into consideration the extent of your deformity based on the x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!