Non Surgical Bunion Treatment
Determined to find a non surgical bunion treatment, I had to first learn the root cause of bunion pain. It turns out that everyday bunion exercises can relieve bunion pain and slowly reverse the bunions. Re-learning how to walk, stand and sit was essential to keeping the bunion reversal permanent. It turns out that bunion treatment without surgery is possible! For those who like to skip around, here is an outline of the content:
Background & Root Causes of Bunion Pain
Background & Root Causes of Bunion Pain
My mom had a painful bunion and eventually had bunion surgery on her left foot in her 40s. In her late 50s, she had both knees replaced. In her 70s, she had 2 bunions, 2 hammer toes, and 1 heel spur on her right foot surgically fixed, all on the right foot. I was my mom’s caretaker for the first bunion surgery and both knees. I learned that foot surgery was definitely something I wanted to avoid, if at all possible.
My mother had always had bad bunions on both feet, and I had the same. Everyone told me it was hereditary and there was nothing I could do. I would eventually need surgery. Sure enough, in my mid-20s, the bunion on my right foot became painful, even when walking normally. I went to podiatrists who could only offer surgical ‘solutions.’ I had already experienced the surgical route while supporting my mother, and it was not something I wanted to go through myself. So in my early 20s, I started searching for a non surgical bunion treatment. I also wanted to learn why we have bunions – are they really genetic? Are we really helpless to reverse them?
I learned that bunions are caused primarily by the way we walk. Imbalances all along the body from the head down the back to the foot create uneven pressure on the bottom of the feet causing bunions. I now have a working theory that people who have bunions often have hammer toes, and seem to eventually need knee replacements (like my mom). The improper walking not only creates problems with our feet, but it wears out our knees! People with bunions sometimes also have flat arches, and often benefit from shoe inserts. So, I figured, changing my gait should hopefully help me avoid all the surgeries my mom had – from bunion to hammer to to knee replacement! The question was, is it too late in life for me, and is there a way to reverse bunions once they are already present?
This background information is also presented here:
Bunion Treatment Without Surgery
The bunion treatment plan can be summarized by hard work and consciousness. Physical therapy and always being aware of the foot and posture, if you will. All day long. The focus is on ‘exercises’ to reverse bunions, and re-learning how to sit, stand, walk, bend, and position the foot. Changing all of these things took a lot of effort. I had to remain constantly aware of what my body was doing. Constantly correcting, correcting, correcting until new habits were formed. The next sections detail the three components of this non surgical bunion treatment.
First, make sure that the shoes are not too tight. Plenty of room is needed reshape feet into healthier positions. Old shoes have the wear patterns of how we walk. When trying to change walking and standing habits, old shoes might be holding back progress. A few pair of new shoes with plenty of extra room around the bunion and toe areas might be a good idea. They don’t have to be top of the line.
What about shoe inserts or orthotics? They can help the foot remember to be in a proper ‘bean’ shape. However, shoe inserts alone won’t reverse bunions, nor will they guarantee perfect foot posture. If you want to try them, my favorite is Orthaheel. The same company, Vionics, also has a line of shoes, including sandals, that already have the arch support built-in.
I took a class at The Balance Center in Palo Alto, CA to learn better posture. Since then, Esther Gokhale has come out with a great book that describes in detail how to change your posture. The book has lots of pictures and is quite easy to follow. Esther has a TEDx talk where she teaches how to stretch sit. I can’t do any better than this book at describing how to change, so I highly recommend purchasing and following it religiously. I think one of the most useful first steps from the book is to make sure the feet are about 10 degrees facing outward when walking. Mine were initially about 10 degrees inward. The next step was shaping my foot like a kidney bean with most of the weight on my heels. After that it gets a bit more complicated about how to stack your hips, pelvis, shoulders, etc., which is why I highly recommend getting the book. It is difficult sometimes to remember throughout the day, but I’ve found that remembering even a few times a day turns into a few more times the day after. Before I knew it, I had habituated new posture.
Everyday Bunion Exercises
Bunion exercises, done consistently and often, can ease the pain and reverse the bunion. Do these throughout the day, as often as can be remembered to do them. The changes are slow but steady. My pain was relieved within a few weeks. Within a few months I was out of pain no matter which shoes I was wearing and no matter what activity I was doing. I was religious about doing them, and I kept doing them even after the pain went away. Ok, on to the exercises, descriptions, and pictures. A video follows that demonstrates the exercises in action.
- Foot Reshape – Practice reshaping the foot into a bunion-healthy position while standing! Place the toes down on the carpet or another sticky surface. Then scoop the heel under, leaving the toes where they were. Next, set the heel down. Hopefully there is more of an arch than is normally present. The toes should be at about 11 o’clock looking down from the top. The foot looks like a kidney bean. The ultimate goal is to always have the foot in this bean position – while standing, walking and even sitting with the feet on the floor.
- Bunion Pushers – Push the bunion in towards the center of the foot with the thumb. Pull the end of the big toe outwards with the index and middle fingers.
- Toe Hookers – Hook the big toes together. Pull the feet outward at the top. Rotate and pull the heels inward. The idea is to reshape the foot into the bean position. This helps stretch the big toe and get it used to it’s new position. Toe hookers are great for sitting at a bar stool or in a chair that is too high.
- Table Toe Hookers – Hook the table leg in between the big toe and second toe. Use the table leg to keep the big toe in the ideal outward position. Scoop the heal under to create a bean-shaped foot. These can be done on a table leg, chair leg, coffee table leg, or end of desk. The primary goal is to stretch and re-position the big toe. The heel scoop is to help remind the foot that it’s supposed to have an arch and bean shape.
I demonstrate these bunion exercises in the following video:
In summary, the non surgical bunion treatment requires a lot of work and conscious effort. The bunion pain is gone and has not returned. The bunion treatment forced me to change the way I walk, stand and sit. I can also say that I feel better and am at the chiropractor less often. I’m hopeful that this posture re-learning will also help prevent other knee, hip, and foot surgeries.
Here is a picture of the bunion on my right foot when it was first painful in 2005. Next to it is a picture from 2014 when I was out of pain. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the foot between 2005 and 2014. Notice both the alignment between the bunion and the big toe, and the increased distance between all of my toes in the 2014 picture.
My foot and bunion area is still not perfect, but the pain is completely gone. I also have more arch than I have ever had previously. Growing up people called me flat-footed. Now, I would no longer call myself flat-footed. I can also sit and stand for longer periods of time without getting achy.
The feet of a baby or small child are often shaped very differently than our adult feet. Babies today still tend to enter the world with close-to-ideal human foot structure. For reference, above is a picture of my 4-year-old’s foot. Her foot is even closer to ideal than mine. But hey, give me another 10 years — I’m still working on it!
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