Bunions: How to stop those frustrating bumps on the sides of your feet from getting worse!
You may have been noticing those bony bumps developing on the sides of your big toes for a while now. You may be feeling somewhat frustrated that it’s now become more difficult for you to fit into your shoes, especially ones that are narrower around the toes. You may be getting some redness, blister, corns or pain on the sides of your toes at the bunions. Whether you’ve felt one or all of these symptoms, we understand! These bumps have developed and you just want them gone. Let us explain exactly what’s going on and how you’ve ended up with bunions.
How did I end up with bunions?
While some unlucky people have a genetic predisposition to developing bunions (have a look at the feet of your parents and grandparents), there are two major causes of bunions:
- Your shoes - shoes that don’t fit properly, tight around the front of the shoes, high-heeled, those that leave you with red marks along the sides of your feet
- Your foot biomechanics - the way your foot functions, particularly those with flat feet and those that roll on the insides of their forefoot
The reason for the above two causes is that they both encourage that big toe to bend inwards (whether the shoe is keeping it there or you’re rolling on the side of the toe as you walk). Having that happen with every step you take for 10,000 steps a day over months or years will cause changes in the joint and positioning of the toes.
You’re also more vulnerable to bunions as you age, if you’ve injured your big toe or if you have arthritis. Bunions can also happen on the outside of your foot by your little toe - this is called a tailor’s bunion because of their higher incidence among tailors in earlier years because of the way they’d sit on the ground while working.
You’ll have noticed the bumps getting bigger over time
If you have bunions, you’ll no doubt be able to think back to the time (whether that be a few short years ago or decades ago) where your feet were perfectly normal, or there was just a very small bump in their place. The down-low on their progression is that they:
- Get larger and more prominent over time
- The rate at which they worsen is dependant on the cause of the bunions
- Change from being flexible to being fixed and rigid
I want the bunions gone!
Of course. The best way to treat bunions is very much dependant on which stage your bunion is at and how flexible the big toe joint is. Here’s what you do to figure this out:
- Using your fingers, move your big toe out to a straightened position
- Is it flexible enough to allow this? If so, you’ll likely respond well to conservative care
- Is it rigid and won’t budge much at all? If so, it has likely become a fixed deformity
The staging criteria are actually much more complex than this but leave that to your podiatrist. Depending on the stage of your bunion, your podiatrist will discuss with you the best ways and methods to help you and get you the best results. The biggest difference is that flexible bunions may respond to straightening techniques to help reverse the damage, whereas fixed bunions likely won’t (except for surgery). The goal for fixed bunions is then to stop them from getting worse and causing even more of a pain in your life (and making it even more difficult for you to find comfortable shoes to wear!).
Helpful treatments for bunions
We use the following treatments effectively in our clinics to help our patients manage their discomfort from bunions and have them feeling great on their feet again:
- Orthotics - orthotics are fantastic because we make them specifically for your feet and they will alter the way your foot moves to reduce the pressure on the inside of your foot and the big toe area. Because you’re not going to be rolling on the inside of your foot anymore, the pressure from the ground won’t be continuously pushing your big toe inwards. This means that they’ll help stop your fixed bunions from getting worse and more prominent, and will facilitate conservative care so that you’re not opposing the efforts to help straighten your toe while you’re walking
- Splints & stretches - for bunions that have some flexibility, splints & stretches are a great way to encourage straightening as well as limit progression. There are many splints out there, but we like ones that you wear at night and are adjustable so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable or painful when you first put it on. You also gradually increase the strength as the bunion improves. Stretches involve physically manipulating and moving the toe to loosen tight tissues around the big toe joint.
- Footwear - don’t worry ladies, we’re not going to reduce you down to big, bulky shoes for the rest of your lives. What we will do is teach you what characteristics of shoes will be causing your bunions to worsen, and what some good (and fashionable!) alternatives are. We’ll also chat with you about your current range of shoes and how they’re working (or not working) in your favour. Because shoes and orthotics are a team, we’ll also bear that in mind and chat through getting your orthotics to fit the shoes you love.
- Managing any painful symptoms - we’ll also, of course, help out with any pains or problems you’ve developed as a result of your bunions - corns, callus, blisters, fragile skin, arthritic pain in the big toe.. You name it. Our goal is always to make your recovery as simple as possible and to have you feeling great on your feet.
All in all, the best thing you can do for your bunions is have them checked. This way you’ll know exactly what’s going on, what will and what won’t work for your bunions, and what you can start doing today to help stop them in their tracks!