Bunions are bony growths that commonly appear on the big toe. As the bump enlarges, the big toe may turn inward affecting movement and causing pain. Bunion treatments include both surgical and non-surgical interventions. Surgical treatment is typically only used in severe cases, or when other treatments have been unsuccessful.
Non-surgical bunion treatment often starts at home. Wearing shoes with more toe room can decrease friction between the growth and shoe material. Bunion pads or supports may also be used to separate the affected toe from other toes to prevent pressure and pain. In some cases, a podiatrist or foot doctor may order custom made bunion pads called orthotics.
Some patients find relief from bunion pain by placing felt or moleskin over the bony growth. The material is soft and reduces friction, which may lead to blistering and breaks in skin over time. Ice packs and elevation can also be used to reduce swelling and inflammation associated with bunion growth. Reducing inflammation is an important part of bunion treatment. Chronic inflammation has been associated with necrosis, or skin and tissue death.
Over the counter pain medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are commonly used to reduce pain. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which works with the immune system to reduce swelling. Swelling can decrease space between toes leading to more friction and increased pain. Prolonged use of over-the-counter pain medications is not supported by the medical community. Pain medications, even over-the-counter varieties, can cause liver damage when overused.
If non-surgical methods of bunion treatment are not successful, or the bunion grows more severe, surgery may be needed to remove the bony growth. According to WebMd®, more than 100 types of surgical procedures are currently used in the United States for bunion treatment. Nearly all types of surgery involve the removal of extra bone, and the realignment of ligaments to straighten the big toe. Doctors will often choose the type of surgery based on the location, size, and severity of the bunion.
After a bunion operation, there is no guarantee that the bunion will not return. Wearing narrow or high-heeled shoes may increase the risk of bunion growth. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and circulatory problems, may increase the risk of complications after surgery. Surgical bunion treatment may also reduce range of motion of the big toe, which can affect people who are active, such as athletes and children.