Can Bunions Be Treated Surgically?

Bunions are painful knobs of bone that protrude from the joint just below the big toe. We discuss the options for treating bunions, and explain when surgery is appropriate.

When you slip into your favorite pair of summer sandals or casual flip flops, your feet are on display. You don’t intend to flaunt an unsightly bunion, and no one wants the pain that accompanies a bunion that is allowed to progress.

Nine times more women than men develop bunions, and improper footwear is usually the culprit. In most cases, a bunion is caused when tight pointed shoes push your big toe toward the middle of your foot. As the tip of the toe is pushed in, the base of the toe, which is connected to the metatarsal bone, forces the metatarsal head out, causing a bump to form on the side of the foot just below the big toe. We call metatarsal issues “halix valus deformities,” a term that refers to an entire range of deformities, bunions among them. There is naturally always a small bump on the side of the foot beneath the big toe, but improper shoe wear can cause this bump to become more pronounced and painful.

If you have bunions, you may be wondering what you can do to remove them. Many people with a pronounced bunion consult an orthopedic foot surgeon, hoping that the protruding bone can be shaved off through surgery. However, foot surgery is not meant to be a cosmetic solution—and merely shaving the bump off the toe is not going to correct the toe position that caused the bunion in the first place. Unless you realign the toe bones with the rest of the bones in the foot, the bunion will return after surgery and continue to progress. Surgery is used to address bunions when they cause severe foot pain that limits everyday activities, or to correct toe stiffness that leaves you unable to bend or straighten your toe.

Many medical issues can be successfully resolved early in their progression without surgery, bunions among them. For patients who have bunions that are not causing pain and are in an early stage of development, we explore non-surgical treatments focused on correcting toe position. These range from changing the shoes you wear to using splints and orthotics to properly position your toe. An orthopedic physician specializing in foot and ankle problems will be able to evaluate your bunion and work with you to develop a treatment designed to address your symptoms. If you seek treatment early, you may be able to resolve your bunion completely, and wear your summer sandals with pride.

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