That pain on the side of your foot could get worse over time. Learn about the available treatments for this common foot condition.

As the seasons change, it is the perfect time to learn about taking care of your feet, especially if you are dealing with bunions. If you have bunions and you haven’t yet experienced pain or tenderness, pursuing treatment options could prevent issues in the future.

What is a bunion?

A bony bump that develops on the inside of the foot at the big toe joint, a bunion causes the big toe to “lean in,” putting pressure on the joint. That’s what can prompt pain, tenderness and swelling. About 23 percent of people under age 65 have bunions, but this climbs up to 36 percent for older people, according to the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery. Also, bunions are 10 times more common in women than in men. 

What causes a bunion?

In the past, it was believed that footwear like high heels or tight shoes could cause a bunion, but this is not true, according to Cameron Phipps, DPM, a foot and ankle surgeon at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

“It is a genetic condition, so if you have it, that means you were born with it,” he says. “Although I’ve seen it with children, most people usually start to notice it more after their 40s, since it is progressive. That’s why some think footwear is the culprit; because it develops after a couple of decades of wearing high heels, for example. But for those people, it would have developed anyway, no matter what they were wearing.”

However, he adds, those uncomfortable shoes can undoubtedly make bunions progress faster and cause more painful symptoms along the way. High heels are especially problematic, because they tip the body’s weight forward and off the heels, putting more pressure on the toes.

What treatments are available?

Initial, conservative approaches include wider shoes, gel-filled pads, and custom orthotics, which can help slow growth, says Dr. Phipps, but it won’t stop the progression completely. He emphasizes, that these won’t reverse the bunion’s growth or bring the toe back into line.

If there is ongoing pain that seems to be intensifying, surgery may be recommended to restore the toe to an upright position. There are a few types of surgeries, from a minimally invasive bunionectomy that involves shaving off a part of the bone to realign the toe’s tendons to a more involved osteotomy which involves cutting the bone and repositioning it using pins or screws. Recovery for the less invasive procedure involves wearing a medical boot for about six weeks. For the more advanced surgery, recovery means not being able to put weight on that foot for six to 12 weeks.

Can you fix a bunion on your own?

One key consideration, Dr. Phipps says, is that there is no “natural cure” for bunions, even though he’s seen plenty advertised, from special shoes to bandaging devices to essential oils.

“Many people might be afraid of bunion procedures and the subsequent recovery, but be wary of these snake-oil types of treatments,” he says. “Your best option is to see a podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon and have the condition handled appropriately.”

Dr. Phipps suggests seeing a specialist before the bunion becomes a problem, instead of waiting until there’s pain. That way, you may be able to delay surgery by slowing the bunion’s growth.


Learn more about Inova’s treatment of foot conditions.

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