Orthotics are valuable tools in the field of podiatry. People might be quick to think about them in the context of flat feet, but these medical devices are actually quite versatile and can be used in the treatment of an array of different foot and ankle conditions. Now, when it comes to the question as to whether or not orthotics can treat your bunion, the answer is “it depends.”
To help you understand what the likelihood is of an orthotic being used to address your bunion, let’s start by looking at the condition.
In spite of the common misconception they are caused by high-heeled shoes, bunions are actually the result of abnormal gait patterns and/or inherited foot structures. Issues like these can lead to instability in the joint where the big toe connects to the foot – the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint.
Joint instability allows the big toe to start drifting inward and angling toward the other toes. As this happens, it forces the near end of the toe bone, and the MTP joint, to press out. This forms the recognizable bump associated with the condition.
As the heel strikes the ground when walking, the joints of the foot unlock and absorb impact. Referred to as pronation, the arch collapses causing the feet to flatten. This flattening causes excessive tension of the tendon in the upper mid-foot that enables the big toe to bend upward. The tendon contracts which then forces the big toe to be pulled laterally toward the second toe.
Knowing how bunions develop is helpful in selecting the appropriate bunion treatment. In general, most bunion deformities are a result of foot structure and function which are genetic. When caught early, orthotics can be used to correct the biomechanical processes that cause a bunion to worsen. This is important in being able to reduce the need for bunion surgery.
Since a bunion is progressive in nature—which means it is irreversible and will worsen over time if left untreated—the only way to truly correct one is with surgery. Catching the condition early, though, is key for conservative treatment being effective. With this in mind, you should stay vigilant for early signs of a bunion, including:
- Early drifting of the big toe towards your smaller toes
- Bump on the base joint of the big toe
- Deep dull "in the joint" pain
- Pain on top or side of the big toe from shoe pressure
It’s important to know that no matter what stage your bunion is in—and one can take several years to develop fully—you might experience pain. This can be severe to the point you cannot walk comfortably in normal shoes. If the pain is severe enough, orthotics are not as effective and we may recommend using bunion surgery to fix the problem.
For more information on orthotics, bunions, or any of the services we provide at Foot Specialists of Long Island call (516) 804-9038 or contact our Long Island podiatrist office online right now.