Orthotics are extremely valuable tools in the field of podiatry. We prescribe them all the time for patients with a wide variety of foot and ankle concerns, including heel pain, arch pain, flat feet, unstable ankles, diabetic wounds, and more.
And yes, that list also includes bunions. In many cases, orthotics can be extremely helpful for people with this particular foot deformity.
However, that’s not the question asked by the title of this blog post. You’re interested in whether orthotics can treat your bunions. And the answer there is, “it depends.”
To understand why, we need to talk more about bunions, talk more about orthotics, and explore some situations in which the two might make a good pairing.
The Root Causes of Bunions Are Biomechanical
In spite of the common misconception that 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 and causes 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.
Custom Orthotics Are Made to Solve Biomechanical Issues
If you know that bunions are caused by faulty foot structure or gait mechanics, custom orthotics would then seem to be an ideal treatment solution—and in many cases they can be!
Unlike flimsy arch supports from the drug store, custom orthotics are prescribed and custom-made to fit the exact shape of your feet and address biomechanical problems with a much greater degree of specificity. You’re getting far more than just extra cushioning and support.
The right set of custom orthotics can actually stabilize the feet, correct abnormal motion, and put your entire lower body (from feet to lower back) in better alignment. In some cases, this alleviates the fundamental problem that was causing your bunions to a great enough degree that the progression is halted and the pain goes away.
How Can I Tell if Orthotics Are the Right Choice for My Bunions?
In many cases, the most critical factor in determining whether orthotics will work as a treatment option is the severity of the bunion itself.
Bunions are progressive in nature—which means they are irreversible and will worsen over time if left untreated. Orthotics—even when they are recommended—will never fix a bunion. The only way to restore the natural shape of your foot is through surgery.
If your bunions are less severe, there’s a good chance orthotics can help you slow or halt the progression of the deformity, and allow you to resume your normal activities without pain or restriction. This is the best-case scenario.
If your bunions are more severe, however, they may already be too pronounced for orthotics to have much practical effect. Orthotics won’t make your bunions any smaller, and if you’re already struggling with severe pain or mobility issues it’s far more likely that surgery will be required. (Orthotics may still be prescribed afterward, not as a bunion treatment but as a way to help support the surgically repaired foot.)
With this in mind, you should stay vigilant for early signs of a bunion, including:
- Early drifting of the big toe toward 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
Don’t Wait Any Longer to Get Your Bunions Examined
Many people wait until they’re dealing with a severe deformity or constant daily pain to seek help for their bunions, but this is a huge mistake. If you get started on a conservative treatment plan before a bunion reaches its later stages, your chances of avoiding surgery are greatly improved.
In other words, whether your bunion is just starting to form or has been progressing for many years, the best time to make an appointment with Foot Specialists of Long Island is always right now.
You can reach our office in Massapequa at (516) 804-9083, or by using our convenient online contact form.