A bunion can be such a dramatic, painful condition that we don’t blame anyone who thinks surgery is the only option for treating one. After all, when the problem appears to be a big, bony bump, isn’t the only reasonable way to deal with it going to be to do something to remove that bump?
While it is true that bunion surgery is the only option that will correct the problem, it is not the only option that can provide relief for patients. Not by a long shot! Many cases of bunions can benefit greatly from conservative treatments. If you are afraid of having surgery or have medical conditions that make surgery riskier for you, we still recommend seeing us. There may still be effective ways to provide you with significant relief of your symptoms.
A Conservative Approach to Bunion Treatment
How is a bunion treated if the bunion itself does not actually go away? When taking a conservative approach to bunion treatment, we consider two primary goals:
- Relieve troubling bunion symptoms (e.g. pain, swelling, corns, calluses)
- Limit or prevent further progression of the bunion as much as possible
If these two goals are successfully achieved, it may be possible to manage your bunion without surgery being necessary. When conservative treatment is an option for a patient, there are different routes to consider. The plan will not be the same for every patient. Factors considered include bunion severity and personal needs.
Components of a conservative bunion treatment plan may include:
The use of custom orthotic devices can provide a host of benefits, particularly when it comes to achieving the two goals outlined above. Custom orthotics provide corrective support and cushioning in the exact areas where they are needed. For someone living with a bunion, this can mean:
- Taking excess pressure off the unstable joint at the base of the big toe, helping to reduce its shift and slow or stop the progression of the bunion
- Removing excess pressure from areas that may be suffering from problems such as corns, calluses, and blisters
- Providing a higher degree of general comfort while in motion
When used correctly, custom orthotics can be a huge help. But there are other measures that can be taken with one’s shoes.
Changes in Footwear
The more pronounced a bunion is, the greater the likelihood that it will rub against the inside of a shoe. Over time, the skin will become irritated and develop sores, corns, calluses, and other uncomfortable problems. Ideal shoes for bunion sufferers provide plenty of room in the toe box (depth and width) to accommodate the bump. Uppers that are soft and stretchable can also help you avoid constraining your toes. It is also very wise to avoid any footwear that tilts pressure toward the front of the foot. This means any heels over two inches should be avoided outright.
But also remember: whatever new shoes you choose should still fit you properly. Leaving your foot sliding around in footwear that is too loose can cause damage as well! We are more than happy to help you find the best types of footwear to meet your needs.
Padding and Other Devices
Outside of orthotics, there are devices that can provide protection to specific problem areas. These often take the form of moleskin pads or “donuts” that can be applied on or near a bunion. We do not recommend using medicated pads as they can sometimes cause irritation or even infection with prolonged use.
Additionally, splints or braces may be recommended to help hold the big toe in proper alignment for certain times and needs. This can slow the progression of the deformity and help maintain comfort and range of motion.
Stretching and Exercise
It is important to maintain flexibility, mobility, and range of motion as much as possible—and important to keep moving as a whole!
A regimen of stretching and exercise focused on your bunion can help maintain comfortable movement longer. If you play sports and other activities, we can also work with you to help keep you active in them as much as possible. We want our patients to do the things they love!
The Sooner Treatment Starts, the Better!
The best time to begin any form of treatment for bunions is as early as possible. When a bunion is in its beginning stages, it tends to be much more flexible and much less severe. As time passes, the problem becomes more rigid and many forms of conservative treatment can be less effective.
That said, even bunions that have been around for years may still benefit from conservative forms of treatment. When conservative treatments fail to work—or it is obvious from the start that they won’t—we will recommend surgery as an option instead.
Whatever your situation, the worst thing you can do is continue holding off on bunion treatment. Whether it involves conservative treatment or surgery, let us help you take those first steps toward long-deserved relief.
Call Advanced Foot Care at (281) 292-7000 to schedule an appointment at our office in The Woodlands. If you prefer to reach out to us electronically instead, fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will respond during standard office hours.