Bunions may only need to be treated if the deformity is severe and you experience significant pain and discomfort.
Where possible, non-surgical treatment for bunions will be used. Your GP can discuss the options with you.
Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion but cannot prevent a bunion from becoming worse over time.
Possible non-surgical treatments include:
- bunion pads
- wearing suitable footwear
These are discussed in more detail below.
When using painkillers, always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine and follow the recommended dose.
As well as taking painkillers, using bunion pads may ease the pain of a bunion.
Reusable bunion pads, made of either gel or fleece, are available over the counter from pharmacies. Some are adhesive and stick over the bunion, while others are held against your foot by a small loop that fits over your big toe.
Bunion pads protect your foot from rubbing on your shoe and relieve the pressure over the enlarged joint at the base of your big toe. You can also use an ice pack or cold compress to help numb pain and reduce any swelling (see below).
Orthotics are devices placed inside your shoes which help realign the bones of your foot. They may help relieve the pressure on your bunion, which can ease the pain. However, there is little evidence orthotics are effective in the long term.
It is important the orthotic fits properly, so you may want to seek advice from your GP or podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot conditions), who can suggest the best ones for you.
You can buy orthotics over the counter from pharmacies or they can be custom made by a podiatrist to fit your feet. Whether you need to buy an over the counter orthotic or have one specially made will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity of your bunion.
You can also use special bunion splints, worn over the top of your foot and your big toe to help straighten its alignment. Splints are available for both daytime and night-time use. However, there is little evidence to indicate splints are effective.
Toe spacers are also available, which can help reduce the pain caused by bunions.
However toe spacers or orthotics may be of limited use as they often compete with the bunion for the already limited space in the shoe.
If your toe joint is painful and inflamed, applying an ice pack to the affected area several times a day can relieve pain and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to the skin, wrap it in a cloth or tea towel first. A bag of frozen vegetables makes a good ice pack.
If you have a bunion, you are advised to wear flat or low-heeled, wide-fitting shoes. Shoes made from soft leather are ideal because they will relieve any pressure on the bunion.
Avoid narrow or slip on shoes. High heels can also make your bunion worse by putting excessive pressure on your toes.
Surgery is the only way to correct a bunion. Bunions usually get worse over time, so a bunion left untreated is likely to get bigger and become more painful.
If your bunion is causing a significant amount of pain and affecting your quality of life, your GP may refer you to be assessed for bunion surgery.
The aim of bunion surgery is to relieve pain and improve the alignment of your big toe. Surgery is not usually carried out for cosmetic reasons alone. Even after surgery, there may still be limits to the styles of shoe you can wear.
Bunion surgery is often performed as a day procedure, which means you will not have to stay overnight in hospital.