When it comes to bunion treatment, many people fear one big word: surgery.
Bunion surgery is not a minor event, certainly. But it’s also often considered the only option someone has, and that there isn’t really anything else one can do to help their situation. This is not often true, and we will return to this a little later.
Others take a slightly different route, believing that there may be natural alternatives to “correct” a bunion, bringing a wayward joint back to its proper place without the need for surgical intervention. This might involve the use of splints (some even homemade!) or a regimen of certain stretches believed to gradually work a bunion back to its normal position over time.
Can treatments like these be effective? Yes, but likely not as much as one might hope.
A Bunion is a Structural Problem
A “natural cure” for a bunion is not something you should expect to see, simply by the nature of the problem.
A bunion is an abnormal shift in the big toe toward the neighboring toe, forming a bony bump along the side of the foot. This shift is often caused by an instability in or around the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint.
Can such a condition be “naturally” corrected? Well, think of it somewhat like having a tree that has started to tilt due to something going wrong at its base. Perhaps the ground has become much too soft, or something has weakened part of its own foundation.
Can you naturally correct this deformity in a meaningful and lasting way without addressing the problem in the ground?
You might be able to hold the tree upright with some ropes, and things will look all right. However, remove the ropes and the tree will eventually return to its leaning state. The problem in the foundation remains.
(Now that we think about it, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has been in much the same shape at times. During restoration in the late ‘90s, counterweights were added to its base to help prevent its lean while they worked on longer lasting measures.)
The types of “natural cures” you might find online are measures that may be able to help in certain ways, but they are not “cures.” To permanently treat the problem, you must dig into the foundation and restore it, much like bunion surgery can correct a bunion deformity.
But that’s not to say other measures are bad things. In many cases, they can be the preferred treatment!
Bunion Surgery is Not Always the Only Option!
In fact, it very frequently is not the only option.
Bunion surgery is often considered only when a bunion is causing pain or problems that are significant enough to impact someone’s daily life. If there are other measures that can provide substantial relief without having to resort to surgery, they are often considered as additional options.
If those options don’t do the trick, then surgery really does become the only option. But the good news is that those options often do work.
Let’s go back to splints. They are a great method for helping to relieve the pain and pressure that a bunion might have to endure. As long as they are being used—such as the ropes are holding up our example tree—they can keep the area much more stable.
(However, we do not recommend trying to make your own splints at home! Splints should be worn with an expert’s guidance to make sure the right corrective adjustment is being applied for the right lengths of time. Otherwise, things might become even worse.)
What are some other treatments and methods that can help make bunions more manageable without surgery?
- Changing Your Footwear. It seems obvious, but you may be surprised how many bunion patients are wearing shoes that make their bunion troubles worse. Ideal shoes are wide in the toe area, providing room for your bunion, and do not place excess weight and force toward the front of the foot. Also, avoid flip-flops. They have no support, and spending a long time in them is bad for feet even when you don’t have a bunion!
- Epsom Salt Soaks. The positive effects of Epsom salt are not fully proven, but it doesn’t hurt. Fill a small tub or basin with warm water until the level will cover your feet. Add about a half cup of Epsom salt and soak your feet for 30-60 minutes. This can be a soothing form of pain relief and just a general relaxant as well.
- Toe Stretching and Exercises. Stretching your toes in various ways can keep them limber, help relieve foot pain, and even build strength around your joint to help slow progression of a bunion. Routines can include flexing, contracting, resistance exercises, and even rolling a golf ball beneath your foot and toes. We can help you determine what types of stretches can have the best effects for your particular case.
- Weight Management. If you are overweight, that is placing additional force against the front of the foot, which can exacerbate bunion problems. We understand that it can be difficult to concentrate on fitness when your feet are in pain, but we can help you start a comfortable routine.
These are all pretty “natural” ways of helping to manage your bunion—no drugs involved whatsoever. They are not going to cure the problem, but they can very much help; perhaps enough to prevent surgery.
But even if surgery ends up being the best or only option, we will assuredly be in your corner to help you make the best decisions regarding the path forward.
If you are experiencing problems with a bunion—no matter how long you have had it or how severe it is—do not hold back on getting the help you need. Contact Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle at (541) 776-3338 to schedule an appointment with our Medford office.