You don’t have to be old to develop bunions; anyone can develop this swollen and misaligned joint at the base of the big toe, though it’s unquestionably common among the elderly population.
Your big toe contains two joints. The larger one is called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. It gets its name because it’s located where the first long foot bone (metatarsal) meets the first toe bone (phalanx).
You rely on the MTP joint when walking. As you take a step, the joint bends so you can push off the foot and swing the other leg forward. That means, for a brief moment, the MTP joint has to fully support half your body weight. That’s a lot of stress, even for such a strong joint, so it’s not entirely surprising that it develops problems.
At Florida Foot & Ankle, podiatrist Dr. Mark A. Matey and his team diagnose and treat bunions at two locations in Jacksonville, Florida. If your bunions are painful or uncomfortable but you don’t want to undergo surgery, try these five ways to ease the pain without going under the knife.
How bunions develop
Bunions take a while to develop, over a period of many years, which is why they’re so common in older people. The process usually gets going when the toes are constantly pressed together, such as when you wear shoes that have a narrow toe box or high heels that shift your weight to the front of your foot.
The repetitive pressure weakens the ligaments holding the toe in a straight position. As a result, the MTP joint moves outward, and the big toe starts to point inward toward the second toe.
The bones moving out of alignment create a bulge at the MTP joint — a bunion. If the pressure continues, the bunion grows, and the bulge chafes against the side of your shoes, becoming red, swollen, and sometimes painful.
You may find it difficult to find shoes that fit, and in advanced cases, it may even become difficult to walk.
More causes of bunion development
Stress on the MTP joint isn’t the only cause of bunion development. In truth, bunions are most likely due to a combination of factors, including:
- Foot injuries
- Arthritis (joint inflammation)
- Abnormal bone structure
- Flat feet
- Extremely flexible ligaments
While a narrow toe box and high-heeled shoes are definitely contributing factors, doctors aren’t certain if they cause the bunions themselves or if they simply make a preexisting condition worse.
Some researchers argue that a major player is a deficit in the foot’s bone structure. Clearly, additional research needs to be done.
5 ways to ease bunion pain without surgery
Bunions get progressively worse, and they don’t go away on their own. But if you catch them early in their development, Dr. Matey can offer conservative treatment measures to slow or halt the progression.
If you have small bunions that don’t cause a lot of pain:
1. Bunion pads
2. Foot taping
3. Custom orthotics
=> These can all improve your symptoms.
4. Physical therapy is a good option for mild-to-moderate bunions and those with complications such as hammertoe and metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of your foot). The stretching and strengthening exercises support the joints and tendons in your foot while preventing any further complications.
If your bunions are too painful to do physical therapy, Dr. Matey can give you a
5. Steroid injection in the MTP joint that reduces inflammation, providing enough relief to let you do the exercises.
If bunions are a pain in your feet, Florida Foot & Ankle stands ready to relieve your discomfort and let you get on with your life. To get started, give us a call at 904-268-3686, or book online today.