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Family Foot & Ankle

Bunions: Treating Those Bumps on Your Big Toe

“Hey, what’s this bump on my big toe?”

If you notice a bony knob forming on the side of your foot at the base of your big toe, chances are it’s a bunion. With this common condition, your first digit slowly drifts toward the second, and as it does, the joint drifts out of alignment and begins to stick outward, altering the shape of your foot.

Doctor Examining a BunionHow Did I Get a Bunion?

This condition can usually be traced back to an inherited structural deformity in the foot itself. Tiny imperfections in your foot shape can cause the pressure of standing and walking to fall unevenly, placing extra force on your joints and slowly destabilizing your toe joint over time.

However, there are usually contributing lifestyle factors as well. Wearing high heels or shoes that are pointed, or too tight in the toe box, can trigger a bunion or make an existing one worse. That’s one reason why they are much more common in women than men.

What Can I Do About It?

The good news is, since bunions develop very slowly over time and often do not cause any pain or mobility issues in the early stages, taking action quickly can slow or even halt the bump’s growth.  Simply changing to a better-fitting pair of shoes and/or wearing shoe inserts can reduce pressure and help distribute your weight more evenly, putting less stress on the affected joint.

Basic bunion stretches and exercising can also help you strengthen your foot and joints. This allows them to better resist the forces pushing your toe out of alignment. Try picking up pencils with your toes, or setting out marbles and using only your feet to pick them up and drop them in a cup. 

When Should I Seek Help?

If you are experiencing persistent or intermittent pain as a result of your deformity, or if you are having difficulty walking and moving normally, it’s time to call in the experts.

Conservative tactics are recommended at first. Over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications can help with the pain and swelling. Foot baths, heating pads, or ice packs work for some people as well.

A full examination of your foot in our office can reveal the underlying structural issues causing the deformity, and help us to make custom orthotics specified to your needs. These devices will take pressure off of the affected area. We may also suggest taping, padding, or splinting your foot in a manner that reduces stress on the joint or friction that is causing you pain.

The bad news is, surgery is the only way to get rid of a bunion—conservative treatments can remove your discomfort and correct your gait, but the protrusion itself will remain.

Due to the risk of complications, surgery is never recommended for purely cosmetic reasons. However, if your other symptoms are severe enough and conservative methods have failed, a bunionectomy may be required to provide relief. We will carefully review your condition in order to devise the appropriate procedure—some operations merely involve removing swollen tissue surrounding the joint, while others require removing, realigning, or fusing bones. Recovery times will vary according to the type of surgery required; in some cases you may be able to walk again almost immediately, though full recovery often takes months.

The doctors of Cincinnati Family Foot and Ankle Center are your local bunion care experts. If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort from this common condition, request an appointment through our website, give us a call, or stop by one of our six convenient Greater Cincinnati locations, including two in the city and one each in Finneytown, Hamilton, Fairfield, and Florence. Dial (513) 728-4800 for our Ohio locations, or (859) 282-1572 in Kentucky.