What is a bunion?
Bunions are very common. According to the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, over 64 million people in the U.S. have bunions.
A bunion is a deformity of the big toe joint. The metatarsophalangeal (MTP) is the largest joint in the big toe, and it’s located where the metatarsal (the long bone in your foot) meets the phalanx (the first small bone at the base of the big toe).
What do bunions look like on feet? A bunion causes the big toe to shift toward the second toe and can travel over or beneath the second toe. During this migration, the MTP joint enlarges, creating a bony bump. There are varying degrees of deformity.
The Latin name for a bunion is hallux valgus. Hallux means big toe, and valgus means turned away from the midline of the body.
Many shoes are unable to accommodate this bony protrusion, placing pressure on the misaligned joint. This causes the bursa (a fluid-filled sac that cushions the joint between the bones and at the tendon/muscle insertion) to become inflamed, and the entire joint becomes stiff and painful.
Why do bunions form?
It’s impossible to pinpoint one cause for a particular bunion. The human foot is complex, and bunions are deformities with multiple interacting causes, including:
- Improper footwear — Narrow and pointy shoes force the foot into a narrow toe box. High heels put extra pressure on the toes, increasing bunion risk.
- Arthritis — Especially the inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis. Because arthritis is more common in women, this may explain why women are 10 times more likely to get bunions than men.
- Genetics — Because foot type is hereditary, bunions do run in families. Low arches, flat feet, loose tendons, and overly-round metatarsal heads are influenced by genetics and make bunions more likely to form.
What are some of the home remedies people try?
Do bunions get worse over time? Yes. If not given the proper care, there will be progressive growth. But in a society of instant gratification, some people will try bunion treatment at home before seeking medical advice. Surprisingly, some at-home remedies can be creative and may provide short-term pain relief by reducing inflammation in the joint.
With the assistance of Google and the internet, the choices are endless, whether they provide temporary relief or no relief at all. If you’re trying to get rid of bunions at home without surgery, think again. At-home treatments cannot cure your bunion.
7 at-home bunion treatments
Some at-home bunion remedies are really just pain relievers, such as:
1. Vicks VapoRub
Sounds crazy, right? But, according to the NIH, menthol and camphor — two of the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub — may help soothe inflamed joints and muscles by acting as a topical anesthetic. Treating bunions with Vicks may provide temporary, superficial pain relief.
2. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
In general, whether it’s sore muscles or joints, most people will take aspirin or an NSAID (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) for pain relief. These over-the-counter pain relievers reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling.
3. Epsom salt
Epsom salt is a natural compound that contains magnesium sulfate. People have used Epsom salts for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments, including pain. The home remedy includes soaking feet in warm water with Epsom salts for pain relief.
Like most home remedies, there is limited research supporting these medical claims. One claim is that absorption of magnesium through the skin may boost the levels of the mineral in the body and decrease inflammation. Soaking feet in warm water is soothing after a long day, but the restorative effect is temporary and not a cure.
4. Ice packs
It’s common knowledge that ice packs reduce swelling and inflammation and can provide temporary pain relief.
Online claims suggest natural herbal remedies for bunions, such as chamomile, calendula, and turmeric. These herbs have anti-inflammatory properties and reduce pain.
6. Oil massage
Online claims suggest that massaging a bunion with warm olive oil supports blood circulation, improving the flow of joint fluid, and reducing calcium deposits. Then, the bunion can slowly begin to resolve.
Another home remedy is a foot wrap in warm castor oil. Claims of castor oil bunion treatment are based on its anti-inflammatory ingredients (alkaloids, tannins, and flavonoids). It is said castor oil can help relieve bunion pain and swelling and stimulate blood circulation.
7. Red chili peppers
An active component of red chili peppers is capsaicin, which dilates the blood vessels, increasing oxygen to the feet. Some people claim that the increased oxygen level regenerates the feet — thus reducing the size of the bunion.
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5 at-home physical support for bunions
For small or minor bunions, we will often recommend physical support to relieve pain and slow further bunion progression. However, many at-home treatments people try are only somewhat effective — and may even be harmful.
1. Bunion pads
Protective pads can provide cushioning for painful bunions. Moleskin or gel-bunion pads can be purchased from the drugstore and protect the bunion from rubbing against the shoe and causing irritation. These can also be used inside shoes to improve fit and can be used on blisters to prevent irritation.
2. Orthotics and insoles
The use of over-the-counter or custom orthotic shoe inserts can alleviate pressure on a bunion. Specialty shoe stores often sell inserts, which may be more effective. Other home remedies include wearing toe spacers or separators and homemade bunion splints at night to help reduce pain.
3. Bunion sleeves
Bunion correctors — also known as toe correctors — slide onto the big toe and the ball of the foot. Like pads, a bunion compression sleeve is a bunion protector for shoes. Like all other home remedies, they may offer temporary pain relief, but cannot permanently get rid of a bunion.
4. Bunion corrector sandals
Companies that make bunion-corrector sandals claim they are an effective long-term treatment; they are a temporary bunion straightener. Despite claims of bunion correction without surgery, the corrector sandals do not reposition the tendons, ligaments, and muscles to realign the big toe. It may be a temporary treatment option for pain relief but may put you at risk for further joint damage.
5. Bunion exercises and stretching
There are range-of-motion exercises for bunion pain and stiffness that provide temporary relief. But there is a myth that strengthening the tendons and ligaments around the bunion via toe exercises will cause the toe to straighten. Bunion treatment exercises may temporarily alleviate symptoms but are not curative.
How are bunions actually treated?
An early diagnosis by podiatrists at The Bunion Institute can help avoid further damage and deformity to the MTP joint. The bigger the bunion gets the more painful and difficult walking can become. With early diagnosis you’ll probably be able to get by with less-invasive treatment or bunion management techniques.
Bunion treatment is only needed when the bunion causes problems. It is important to note that the most suitable treatment will depend on bunion symptoms, the type of deformity, and whether the patient has other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or vascular disease.
If managed properly, bunion growth can be limited. But if symptoms are severe and foot pain worsens, bunion surgery can provide relief and actually correct the problem. Bunion correction surgery is the only way to treat the cause of the symptoms, by correcting the misalignment.
If you’re at risk for bunions or want to prevent reformation of a previously treated bunion, the best answer to stop bunions from forming is proper footwear. The best shoes for optimal foot health should have:
- wiggle room in the foot area
- a wide toe box
- good arch support
- heels that are less than one to two inches
Why choose the Bunion Institute for your bunion care?
If you’re experiencing bunion pain, we’re here to help. Our nationally recognized foot and ankle podiatry experts offer the most advanced bunion solutions and the highest success rates in the nation. Our doctors of Podiatric medicine (DPMs for short) have years of experience and are leaders in the research and treatment of all bunion conditions.
At the Bunion Institute (an affiliate of the University Foot & Ankle Institute), we take our patients’ safety seriously. Our facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all CDC recommendations. Masks are always required in our facilities.
Serving locations throughout Southern California including Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, West Lake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.
Please call (855) 814-3600, or request a consultation online so that we can discuss your situation.