Q&A Topic: Don’t Let Bunions Interfere with Your Life
Kurt Voellmicke, MD, FAAOS
Q. What is a bunion and why do they develop?
A. If you’ve never experienced a bunion, you might think this bump on the inner side of your foot is an enlarged bone or even a growth, but it’s not. A bunion is actually a normally-shaped bone that has drifted into an abnormal position. As part of the deformity, the big toe becomes crooked, pointing more and more toward the second toe. Genetics play a huge role in the development of bunions. In fact, 70 percent of people with bunions have had family members with the same or similar condition. Gender also plays a role – women are nine to 10 times more likely to develop bunions and are also more likely to pursue treatment.
Q. When do bunions become painful?
A. There are people with large bunions who are asymptomatic, and yet some of my patients with small bunions truly suffer. A bunion patient may develop painful symptoms due to footwear, activities, or other foot issues. Continually wearing poorly-fitting shoes that force the toes into certain positions may put additional pressure and pain on the bunion.
Q. Is there anything I can do on my own if I’m experiencing pain from a bunion?
A. The first step is choosing shoes that are wider, softer, and more comfortable. For women, I’ll suggest shoes with a lower heel and a wider toe. In some cases, I’ll recommend an arch support to stabilize the foot and limit weight on the bunion. Sometimes the right shoe is all it takes to relieve the pain. For individuals with smaller bunions who have discomfort and aching near the base of the big toe during sports or activities, I recommend inserting a foam or silicone rubber spacer between the first and second toe. This corrects the alignment of the big toe and improves the mechanics of the joint, often leading to improved symptoms. Placed over bunions, circular donut-like bunion pads may also provide comfort inside shoes.
Q. When would you recommend surgery for a bunion?
A:I don’t recommend bunion surgery for a bunion that’s not painful. It’s not about the X-ray, the size, or the look of the bunion. It’s about how the bunion impacts your life. If all non-surgical options have failed and your bunion(s) continues to cause pain and interfere with your quality of life, a surgical procedure may be necessary.
Q. How long does it take to recover from bunion surgery?
A. At Northern Westchester Hospital, bunion procedures are same-day surgeries. Patients should expect to remain home with feet raised to minimize swelling, from three or four days to one week. Ten days after surgery, patients come for an office visit for removal of stitches. Six to eight weeks following surgery, most patients will be allowed to walk in a roomy sneaker. If you have bunion surgery on the right foot, you won’t be able to drive until your doctor gives permission. Full recovery takes about six months to one year.
Learn More About Dr. Voellmicke
Director, Foot and Ankle Section
Orthopedic and Spine Institute
Northern Westchester Hospital
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