Bunions are common, affecting a third of people over 65 in the United States. Without surgery, there’s no way to fully correct the misalignment that causes a bunion. However, many nonsurgical therapies can decrease your discomfort and slow bunion progression.
A bunion is a bony lump at the base of the big toe, where the first metatarsal bone forms a joint with the phalange (big toe). The skin-covered bulge, actually the head of the metatarsal bone, protrudes from the side of the foot.
The bump occurs when the metatarsal shifts out of position in the joint. This movement also causes the big toe to slant inward as it loses stability, eventually lapping over the second toe if the condition progresses. Bunions can develop on one or both feet.
Caused by the same type of bony misalignment, a bunionette (tailor’s bunion) can occur on the outer foot at the joint where the fifth metatarsal bone connects with the little toe.
Children and teens can develop bunions, likely related to their DNA, but they are much more common in adults and tend to worsen over time without treatment.
What are the long-term effects of bunions?
A mild bunion may not cause symptoms other than a slight bulge at the joint. However, bunions frequently cause more pronounced symptoms as the condition worsens.
You may experience:
- Swelling, redness, and tenderness surrounding the toe joint
- Callus formation and corns where the first and second toes rub against one another
- Chronic toe pain that can spread into the ball of the foot
- Decreased movement of the big toe or pain with movement
- Numbness in the affected toe
- Burning pain in the toe area with standing or walking
- Difficulty with balance
- Painfully tight toe tendons and joints (hammertoe)
Bunions can also make it difficult to find shoes that fit comfortably (or at all) as the structural misalignment advances.
Preventing worsening bunion deformity
Other than corrective surgery, the primary treatment for bunions is to prevent the structural misalignment from worsening. Because arthritis and other conditions can cause similar symptoms, bunion treatment at Foot & Ankle Specialists of Ohio starts with an accurate diagnosis.
Based on the results of an evaluation, your symptoms, and level of misalignment, your specialist may recommend:
- Medical taping to correct toe alignment
- Custom shoe inserts (orthotics)
- Shoes with comfortably wide, deep toe boxes to relieve pressure
- Bunion pads and toe spacers to help prevent calluses
- Oral anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling
- Physical therapy, including massage and ultrasound therapy
Early treatment offers the best chance of preventing a bunion from worsening. If your symptoms are severe and interfere with mobility or quality of life, your specialist may recommend minimally invasive surgery to correct the misalignment and prevent future bunion formation.