What are bunions exactly? I realized I had to answer that question before I started any bunion treatment. Of course, I knew very well what my bunions looked like: bony lumps at the base of my big toes, sticking out, making it almost impossible for me to wear pretty shoes, sometimes hurting a bit and all in all not looking very attractive. But what are bunions exactly?
- In my particular case, I believe the bunions are partly nothing else than the bones of my big toe joints. They’re just more visible because my big toes have moved out of position (they now bend towards my second toes). When I straighten my big toes, I see more clearly what the ‘real’ size of my bunions is.
- Another part of my bunions may actually be swollen soft tissue or a swelling of the bursa of my big toe joint. A bursa?
A bursa is a sac producing a lubricating fluid to reduce friction in a joint (in this case your big toe joint) and to aid its movement. In a normal situation, a bursa produces just enough fluid to do this.
When a joint is irritated however, the bursa produces way too much fluid and consequently starts to grow. This condition is called ‘bursitis’. The result of a swollen bursa is pain of course. Moving the joint even makes this pain worse.
- And finally, part of my bunions might be new bone: when a somewhat swollen bursa starts to rub against your shoe, new bone can be formed.
So bunions can be a combination of (dislocated) existing bones, a swollen bursa, and new bone that been has formed.
Bunion and Hallux Valgus
Now you know what are bunions. But you’ve probably heard the word ‘hallux valgus’ too in connection with them. To be honest, for a long time I thought they were the same. But they’re not, I found out, though they often come together.
‘Hallux valgus’ refers to the condition that your big toe is leaning towards your second toe. (The word ‘hallux’ refers to the big toe and the word ‘valgus’ to the fact that it is pointing away from the middle line of your body.)
I’m not sure what comes first: a hallux valgus or a bunion. Based on common sense, I believe both are possible – if your big toe is bending towards your second toe, this accounts for additional pressure on your big toe joint, which can cause a bunion. And when you have a bunion first, this may force your big toe in the direction of your second toe (at least when you’re wearing shoes).
But frankly, I don’t care what comes first. I could live with a hallux valgus I believe (as long as this is not bothering my second toe). But as for my bunions – I could do very well without them!
Is it really possible to get rid of your bunions without having surgery?
To be honest, I’m not sure if you can get completely rid of them, but I do know from experience now that it’s possible to reduce the size of your bunions a bit and to improve the condition of your feet.
I’ve had bunions for years, and at some point, they really started to annoy me. They seemed to grow bigger and bigger, hurt when I had to walk a lot, and every year it became harder to find comfortable, yet fashionable shoes.
I could opt for surgery, of course, to have my bunions removed. But bunion surgery is not what I wanted. I preferred trying nonsurgery bunion treatments first.
Before I started selecting treatments, I asked myself a couple of questions. Such as: Where did my bunions come from? What made them develop in the first place? Was it because of the shoes I used to wear in my twenties? Or is it because I’m genetically pre-disposed to developing bunions (as my mother and grandmother suffered from them too)?
Based on the knowledge I gained by totally immersing myself in the subject for some weeks, I decided to start my bunion experiment by:
- Walking as much as possible on comfortable, wide shoes, so my bunions get all the space they need and won’t get irritated.
- Wear special insoles, to correct any mechanical imperfections of my feet.
- Wear bunion splints at night, to relax my feet and keep my toes in a straight position (after a while I discovered this isn’t the way to go, but I used them for quite a long time).
- Exercising my feet as much as possible, but at least once a day.
- Taking a daily foot bath for soothing my pain.
- Have the acupuncture points treated that are related to the formation of bunions.
- Adjusting my diet, to prevent the formation of more bone mass in my bunions.
- Using visualization techniques.
In the course of the experiment, I added a couple of more things:
- After two and a half months, I started to take an anti-inflammatory herb. I chose Devil’s Claw, which is said to possess anti-inflammatory properties. But there are many more natural products that do the same.
- Also, I began tapping my feet with an acupuncher, a device originally developed as a reflexology tool, but that may have a positive effect on your bunions as well.
- After about five months, I had marigold therapy in an effort to reduce the size of my bunions.
- Then, after almost eight months, I started using EFT to maintain the results I achieved so far and maybe even improve the condition of my feet a bit more.
- And finally, after seven (!) years, I had a microcurrent treatment, to help strengthen weakened muscles and loosen up others.
Please be aware that the previous list is not carved in stone. I’m sure there are a lot more therapies and products available. But there’s no way I could try and test everything myself. That’s why I hope you’ll want to join in and tell about yourself, abouth the treatments you’re trying and the products you find beneficial yourself.
By the way, the feet in the logo at the top are definitely not mine! Those are the kind of feet I’d like to have. So I put them there as an inspiration. The other pictures on this website, they are pictures of my own feet. No doubt you’ll notice the difference!
Can hot foot baths cure your bunions?
By accident, I stumbled upon an interesting home treatment for bunions: hot foot baths with Epsom salt and Iodex. It was just a short message that aroused my curiosity – about a study that never even had been published. All it said was this:
Lambeth, B., ‘An Examination of the Bowen Bunion Treatment’ (1999). (unpublished study). 4 clients with bilateral bunions were treated with Epsom Salts/Iodex. No Bowen moves made. Bunions measured at 1,2 and 3 month intervals. Bunion size reduced for all clients from 5mm to 15mm. (Source)
The objective of this study was to find out if the Bowen technique could be used to cure bunions. The Bowen technique uses gentle moves to stimulate the body’s own healing powers. But what struck me, was the remark that no Bowen moves were made here.
Apparently the four people were only treated with Epsom salts and Iodex. Would it be possible that only the combined use of these products can reduce the size of your bunions? I thought it was interesting enough to find out more about!
Epsom salts are the same as magnesium sulfate, it turns out. Magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin when taking a bath, and reduces inflammation. It also prevents temporary skin wrinkling, which is the reason it’s often used in foot baths. Some sources claim Epsom salts can be used where there is calcification of the joint. But don’t take my word for it – this is definitely not my area of expertise!
As for Iodex, this is an ointment with iodine as the active ingredient. It’s a disinfectant and comes in two versions: one with methyl salicylate and one without. (I’d prefer the one with methyl salicylate, because this ingredient increases the blood circulation and warms your muscles.)
Anyway, it seems to me that this home treatment for bunions definitely is worth a try. Epsom salts are easy to get (I bought them from my local chemist). Iodex turned out to be a bit harder to get though (maybe because I’m living in Europe). That’s why I chose Betadine instead, a povidone-iodine ointment (but without the methyl salicylate unfortunately).
So I now have a daily foot bath routine that looks like this: I add about 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in a bowl of warm water, soak my feet for about 10 minutes, then dry them and finish by applying a little bit of Betadine to my bunions.
With these easy exercises I try to keep my toes flexible
Keeping your toes as flexible as possible is always a good idea I guess. Especially my big toes have become quite rigid over the years – I hardly seem to be able to move them sideways these days. So that’s why I’ve included daily foot exercises in my bunion experiment.
As I’m easily bored, I’ve selected 8 different exercises for bunions. Exercises I thought that made sense and that felt good. I’m not a professional podiatrist though, so be careful and be sure not to force your toes in any way.
I myself make it a point to practice every day for 10 – 20 minutes. But I admit: I don’t do all 8 exercises every day. I just pick 3 or 4 from the list below (and make sure those aren’t always the same ones).
Fortunately, these exercises for bunions don’t take up a lot of time: I usually practice while watching the evening news on tv. Also, you don’t have to wear any special outfit to be able to do them. Just take off your socks and shoes and go ahead!
My foot exercises for bunions
(Repeats: as often as is still comfortable for you)
- Hold your big toe with one hand and your foot with the other. Gently try to ‘pull’ your toe ‘off’ and hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
- As in the previous exercise, but after pulling your toe, twist it gently clockwise and counterclockwise.
- As in the first exercise, but in the end position, push your big toe upward while keeping it straight. (Don’t bend it – your toe should move as a whole.) Hold for 10 seconds. Now push it downward, again without bending it. Also hold for 10 seconds.
- With your feet flat and straight out in front of you, side by side, try to move your big toes toward each other. Then bring them back. Assist this movement with your hand if necessary, or try to do this exercise in warm water first.
- With your heels on the ground, pick up a towel with your toes. Release and repeat.
- Sit or stand with your foot on the floor. Try lifting different objects (pieces of paper, marbles, pencils) off the floor.
- Sit with your feet on the floor. Shorten your feet by tightening the muscles on the sole. Keep your toes pushed straight against the floor.
- Stand tall and bring your big toes together in such a way that they touch each other. Then you close your heels, shifting them slowly and carefully, all the while keeping an upright position (squeeze in your belly and bottom, and bring your knees together). Once in this position, you try to bring your big toes together (because they have probably been displaced a little bit by now). (This last exercise is recommended by the physiotherapist who gave me the microcurrent treatment.)
Can a bunion splint make your bunions disappear?
No, personally I don’t think so. But nevertheless, there have been times when not a day went by without me wearing some kind of bunion splint. Let me explain which ones I used the most.
Before I started this experiment, I was already wearing bunion splints on a regular basis. I suppose toe spreaders and splints are the first things people turn to when they start to develop bunions on their feet. And I am no exception.
Bunion night splint
At first I only put bunion splints on at night, to relax my feet and toes. Me and my husband are avid walkers, and it just felt nice to wear them after a day of walking.
I started out with bunion regulators, the ones with a plastic brace and a strap around your feet to secure it. Soon I was wearing them every night, but after a while started looking for an alternative. Because sometimes I had to take them off in the middle of the night as they hurt me, or just irritated me.
So after a while I changed to a Rolyan bunion splint, which is made of a stretchy fabric that looks like suede (and maybe it is). This soft bunion splint also has a rigid part of course, but this can be heated and molded to fit the shape of your bunion (though I didn’t do this – I just used it as provided). I used these splints for a long time.
Bunion day splint
As for the type of bunion day splint I used to wear – that’s a similar story. I started out with regular ones – an elastic band with straps to straighten your toes. I hated them from the very first minute. They kept twisting in my shoes and didn’t do what they were supposed to do: keep my big toes in a straight position. Almost immediately after I bought them, I replaced them with a Wheaton bunion brace.
Those Wheaton bunion braces felt a lot better. I put them on every day and they were comfortable all day long. But in spite of that, I decided to stop wearing them when I started this experiment. Why? I want to give my bunions as much space as possible. And those braces did take up precious space in my shoes. Space I don’t have.
So at the moment, I don’t wear any kind of bunion day splint any more. I have used toe spacers for a short while, to prevent my big toes from turning inwards during the day. But I just didn’t like them.
What I did use a lot however, for years in a row since I started this experiment, are Yoga toes. True, you cannot wear them in your shoes, and you cannot sleep with them either (at least I cannot). But I did use them a lot, as some sort of passive exercise.
Yoga toes definitely stretch your toes and I hoped by wearing them now and then I could keep my feet flexible. Besides, it felt nice to have your toes stretched for half an our or so.
However, as I learned from the physiotherapist who gave me the microcurrent treatment, it’s best to not use any splints at all if you suffer from bunions and/or hallux valgus. Instead, it’s better to exercise your muscles to keep your toes aligned.