A bunion, also known as hallux valgus, occurs when the big toe (the hallux) bends abnormally towards the other toes. This can cause swelling of the joint, leading to pain and redness, and can cause the foot to change shape, which makes it painful and difficult to walk. If you suffer with painful or debilitating bunions, you may benefit from some form of bunion treatment. Different bunion treatments are available for bunions at different stages – finding one that is right for you will depend on the damage to your foot and your lifestyle and personal preferences.

This article on bunion treatment is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

What are the causes?

Bunions tend to occur most often in women and you are more likely to be affected if you have a family history of bunions or suffer from arthritis. Other risk factors for bunions include injury to the foot or anything that regularly puts pressure or strain on the toes, such as wearing badly fitting shoes or high heels, dancing, and other exercises that involve repetitive strain on the feet. Weakness of the foot or poor gait (such as rolling of the foot) can also increase your risk of developing bunions.

What types of treatments are available?

Bunion treatments can be either surgical or non-surgical.

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Wearing the right footwear is an important part of bunion treatment and prevention. Flat shoes in a wide fitting style with laces or straps that allow for adjustment may help.
  • Ice packs or cold compresses can give immediate but temporary relief from pain and swelling.
  • Bunion shields or pads used as part of bunion treatment can protect the joint and prevent the swelling getting worse.
  • Orthotic devices designed specifically for bunion treatment include splints, toe separators or foot supports that realign the big toe and relieve symptoms. These can be used either during the day and while you walk, or at night while you sleep.
  • Exercises to help strengthen the muscles can make other bunion treatments work better and can help to prevent the bunions getting worse.
  • Medicines such as over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used in early bunion treatment to relieve the pain and swelling.
  • Ultrasound therapy can reduce the pain and swelling caused by bunions.

In general, non-surgical bunion treatments work by making the symptoms of bunions less intrusive. They can also help stop your bunion from getting any worse. What these types of bunion treatment cannot do is to reduce or remove your bunions or to correct the deformity of the joint. For severe joint damage caused by bunions, surgical bunion treatment is usually necessary.

Surgical treatment

Bunion surgery is a complex procedure and the recovery period can be long, uncomfortable and debilitating. The big toe joint takes a lot of weight from the body as you are standing and walking, and not being able to rely on it can have a big impact on daily life. As a result, most people try as many of the non-surgical bunion treatments as possible before seriously considering a bunion operation.

There are many different types of bunion surgery, depending on the severity and nature of the bunion. Types of bunion surgery include:

  • Repair of the soft tissue around the joint.
  • Removing damaged joint surfaces (arthrodesis).
  • Reducing the size of the lump on the joint (exostectomy); this is largely cosmetic as this type of bunion surgery does not correct the joint itself.
  • Taking away the damaged part of the joint (resection arthroplasty).
  • Realigning the joint to give the foot more stability (osteotomy).
  • A new, minimally invasive type of bunion surgery has been developed that provides maximum benefits with reduced tissue damage, operation time and recovery period. However, this type of bunion treatment is not widely available yet and may only be suitable for some bunions.

Is the treatment always effective?

Bunion surgery is not guaranteed to cure your bunion; it may not completely return your foot to normal, and can sometimes lead to lasting complications including as calluses or corns. The stability and strength of the joint may also be compromised, and you may find that your bunion recurs in the future.

There can also be side-effects associated with surgical bunion treatment. These include possible nerve or tissue damage leading to numbness or stiffness of the toe, shortened toe due to bone being removed, abnormal toe position, persistent pain and swelling, and surgical complications including wound infection.

Despite surgical bunion treatment not being an easy choice, around 85% of people who undergo a bunion operation report that they are happy with the results. A treatment with this sort of satisfaction rate is definitely not to be dismissed.

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