Updated: Aug 13, 2018
Bunions may develop for a variety of reasons, including foot trauma or an underlying neuromuscular condition, but there is also often a genetic component. This means the foot type you inherited from your parents (e.g. flatfoot, high-arched cavus foot) predisposes you to developing the bunion. Based on your foot structure and the way in which you walk, certain tendons pull and gain mechanical advantage over other tendons, causing instability of joints and foot deformities, including bunions. Certain shoe gear (e.g. flat shoes, flip-flops) and walking barefoot can also contribute to further progression of the deformity.
Because the deformity is structural (bony), the only way to truly correct the bunion is with surgery. That means splints, physical therapy, or other manipulation techniques will not reverse the deformity. Surgery is not always required, though, especially if pain is not present, and conservative care should be attempted prior to surgery. Conservative treatment is aimed at trying to slow down the progression of the deformity and to help improve symptoms.
Check out the list below for conservative treatment options for bunions. If they keep you pain-free and allow you to remain active and do the things you want to do on a daily basis, they may also help prevent you from having to undergo surgery.
1. Shoe gear
Wearing good, supportive tennis shoes as much as possible and avoiding barefoot walking, along with the use of flat shoes and flip-flops, is key. Trying shoes with a wider toe box can also be helpful to accommodate for the increased width of the forefoot region in the presence of the bunion(s). I usually recommend New Balance or Brooks for wider foot types.
Orthotics are devices that go into shoes to help cushion and support feet, as well as control the abnormal foot biomechanics which may be contributing to the progression of the bunion. They can be purchased off-the-shelf or be custom-made to fit your feet.
Bunion sleeves and toe spacers are over-the-counter products that can be used to help pad the areas of increased pressure. They will not correct the deformity, but just provide added cushion to the foot while wearing closed-toe shoes.
There is often a genetic component to the development of bunions, and foot type, abnormal biomechanics, and shoe gear can all lead to further progression of the deformity. And, although, nothing may be able to stop the bunion from worsening (e.g. getting larger, becoming more painful, causing joint arthritis, etc), and surgery is the only way to reverse the deformity, proper shoe gear and orthotics can help slow the process down and possibly keep you pain-free and out of the operating room. And if conservative treatment does not work, surgical correction can always be discussed with the doctor.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have questions or concerns about your health.