Can Bunions Be Treated Non-Surgically?

by | Feb 17, 2020

Bunions are an extremely common foot deformity—more common than you might realize. In fact, some studies suggest that as many as 1 in 4 American adults has one (or two!).

Yet despite this, there’s still an awful lot of confusion out there about when and how to treat them, and what kinds of treatments can be effective. Far too many of our patients assume that surgery is their only option, then wait until their bunions are huge (and incredibly painful!) before they do anything about them.

Well, sure, if that’s your strategy then surgery probably will be your only option. But the truth is that, if you’re proactive about it, there are many non-surgical remedies at your disposal.

Surprised? We’ll fill you in. But first …

A Word About What Non-Surgical Bunion Treatments Can (and Can’t) Do for You

Before we dig into your conservative treatment options, we need to talk about why we do them and what you can (and can’t) expect from them.

We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Once a bunion has started to form, and your toe has drifted out of place, no conservative treatment is going to put your foot back to the way it was. From a purely cosmetic point of view, surgery is the only way to reshape your foot.

However, when it comes to bunion treatment, cosmetics isn’t truly our main concern. We’re far more interested in making sure that, whatever the shape of your foot may be, you are able perform your daily responsibilities and enjoy your favorite hobbies and activities without pain or restriction.

Particularly in the earlier stages of bunion progression, non-surgical treatments can often do a great job of keeping your feet from hurting during activity, as well as slowing or even halting the rate at which the bunion gets worse.

What this means is that, rather than simply ignoring your bunion until it becomes too large and painful to ignore any longer, what you should actually be doing is pursuing non-surgical treatments. It will mean you get more time to enjoy pain-free activity, and in the best-case scenario it may mean that you prevent yourself from ever needing surgery—or at least delaying it for many more years.

What Non-Surgical Treatments Are Out There?

The first step is to make an appointment with the team at Waukesha Foot Specialists. Bunions can have many possible causes and contributing factors. Likewise, each individual has a different set of needs and goals. So developing the most effective treatment plan for your specific situation will require a careful examination of your feet, as well as a discussion of your needs.

That said, some of the options we’d typically consider or recommend include:

  • Changing your shoes. Footwear that is too tight in the toe area and/or puts too much weight on the front part of your foot are frequently responsible for both accelerating bunion development and increasing your pain. Switch to shoes that are wide enough to let your toes wiggle, offer good cushioning and arch support, and have a low heel.
  • Padding and taping. One of our doctors can instruct you in how to use padding and taping to both cushion the bunion bump itself, as well as keep your toe straight. That means less pressure and friction, and less pain.
  • Wearing orthotics. The right pair of orthotics can do more than simply cushion the feet and reduce the amount of force absorbed by your destabilized bunion joint. Orthotics can also correct biomechanical flaws that may be responsible for your bunion forming in the first place, and if so, keep it from worsening as quickly.
  • Managing pain. There are many methods that could be recommended here, depending on the severity of your symptoms. For some, occasional use of ice therapy or over-the-counter painkillers (as directed) may be all that is necessary. For others, we might consider providing a cortisone shot for longer-term pain relief.

When Is Surgery Truly Necessary?

In short, surgery is usually only considered if:

  • Your bunion is severe.
  • Your pain is affecting you daily and/or keeping you from activities that are important to you, such as specific sports, hobbies, playing with your kids or grandkids, etc.
  • Non-surgical treatments have been attempted without success, or we determine that they are unlikely to be effective.

If you find yourself in this situation, please know that, while we’re sure you would have preferred to avoid surgery, it could still be one of the best decisions you make to get your bunion fixed. The temporary setback of limited weightbearing for a few weeks to a month or two is insignificant in comparison to years of pain-free activity afterward.

We’re happy to discuss all treatment options with you, and help guide you toward a solution to your bunion pain that will be as safe and effective as possible. To schedule with our team in Waukesha, please call our office today at (262) 544-0700; you can also request an appointment online.

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