Bunions are a progressive condition that can get worse over time, leading to pain and discomfort in your feet. They can also cause your gait to change, which might lead to injuries.
But the good news is that being a progressive condition, there are certain things you can do to slow it down. If you treat them correctly at home, you can avoid having bunion surgery.
Bunion correctors are one way of treating bunions at home. But what is a bunion corrector and do they work?
Let’s have a look at bunions and how a bunion corrector could be used to improve the condition of your feet.
What is a Bunion?
A bunion is a common foot condition where a bony bump forms on the base of the bone of the big toe. The medical term for a bunion on the big toe is hallux valgus.
The bunion develops over time, from pressure that’s placed on the big toe joint. The constant pressure and movement cause a misalignment of the bones in your forefoot.
When the bones of the big toe have shifted, it will push the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of your big toe outwards, against the skin.
You’ll notice that the tip of your big toe is now angled towards your second toe. You’ll also be able to see a small bump on the outside of the base of your big toe.
Unfortunately, bunions are progressive and the bony growth will continue to get bigger if you don’t intervene.
The skin around the bunion can become swollen and red. You may notice that the skin appears to be thicker, or that it has formed a callus underneath your big toe joint.
You may experience pain, inflammation, and swelling around the big toe joint. It can be difficult to bend or extend your big toe. You could also experience pain or a burning sensation when you try to bend or extend it.
In some cases, you may experience numbness in the big toe, ongoing pain in the big toe, or foot pain. As the bunion gets bigger, it will become more difficult for you to find shoes that will fit properly. Good bunion socks can help but will only cushion the bunion, not correct it.
As the bunion progresses, it can push your second toe out of alignment, leading to other foot conditions like hammer toes.
What is a Bunion Corrector?
A bunion corrector is an orthotic device that you wear to help correct the alignment of the big toe. There are several different types of bunion correctors, including sleeves, splints, toe separators, and pads.
Bunion correctors are also known as a separator or bunion splint. They’re often made from soft materials such as gel, silicone, or a fabric sleeve.
You’ll either be able to slide the bunion corrector over the big toe or all toes. Some designs may separate the big toe from the others while the bunion corrector is wrapped around your entire foot.
These orthotic devices will prevent the big toe from coming into contact with your other toes. It will gently pull your big toe into its natural alignment by separating the big toe from your other toes.
Why Use a Bunion Corrector?
Bunion correctors have many benefits; they’re non-invasive, easy to use, and are a low-cost solution. By bringing the toe back to its normal position, it reduces pain and friction.
These orthotic devices can prevent tightness and stiffness from developing in the surrounding soft tissue and joint. You’ll find that the bunion corrector will reduce and help to relieve the pressure between the bones.
By using the bunion corrector to gently push your big toe into its anatomically correct position, you’ll find that your body weight will be evenly distributed, balance will be better, and your gait will be in alignment.
This can reduce muscle fatigue in your feet and calves. It will greatly reduce knee, ankle, and lower back pain, as your body isn’t overcompensating due to an abnormal gait.
This can make daily activities like walking or standing more comfortable. They also reduce the risk of developing corns or calluses on or around the bunion, or beneath the big toe.
Even if you’re not doing a lot of walking or standing, the upper of the shoe can place the bunion under pressure. This constant pressure can also irritate the skin around the bunion and a bunion corrector will pad and protect the bunion from the upper.
Why Should the Big Toe Be Separated from the Other Toes?
There are three stages of bunion development, and once a bunion has started to form it won’t go away.
The first stage of bunion development is when you see a slight bump on the base of your big toe joint. Your big toe may only be slightly turned towards your second toe, but it won’t touch your second toe.
If you start treatment during this stage, you’ll be able to prevent the bunion from getting worse by slowing the condition down. In some cases, with continued conservative treatment, the bunion doesn’t go on to stage 2 and 3.
In the second bunion development stage, your big toe will have deviated from the metatarsophalangeal—MTP—joint. If you look at your toes, the big toe will have curved and may be touching the second toe. It’s during this stage that the pain often begins.
Bunion correctors such as a splint or toe separators may have to be worn while wearing shoes. You may also be given a night splint to keep your toes separate, to prevent the bunion from getting worse and to prevent any other changes to your foot structure.
The orthotic devices may help to prevent other foot conditions like metatarsalgia, bursitis, or hammer toe.
The third stage in the bunion’s development is where your big toe has moved significantly. In this stage, you’ll find that your big toe either overlaps or is under-riding your second toe.
It’s during this stage that the bunion can push your other toes out of their natural alignment. This can lead to further changes in your foot structure, severe pain, swelling, and the development of other painful foot conditions.
In the third stage, the joint and surrounding tissue could be stiff and tight. This will cause pain when you try to move the toe and cause pain during daily activities. The bunion will alter your gait and this can cause lower back pain, knee, and ankle pain.
To help with the symptoms of the bunion in this stage, your doctor may recommend Cortisone injections. Once the big toe has rotated away from the midline of the body and you have no function of the big toe, your doctor may recommend surgery.
By treating the bunion early—stage 1—with conservative treatments and separating the toes, you’ll be able to slow down the progression of the bunion. This can help you avoid surgery.
What is a Bunion Protector?
A bunion protector is a product that’s often made from a soft gel. It will pad and protect the bunion from the upper of the shoe.
Whether you’re walking, standing, or sitting, the bunion will be in contact with the upper of the shoe. This can irritate the skin around the bunion and place direct pressure on it.
The bunion protector acts as a protective barrier between the bunion and the upper of the shoe. This will prevent discomfort, reduce swelling, and pain when wearing shoes.
How Effective is a Separator or Protector?
Research has shown that bunion tools such as separators, protectors, and splints are effective in managing the symptoms of bunions.
They help reduce the pressure on the bunion, decrease the pain intensity, and protect the foot’s structure.
Unfortunately, bunion correctors or protectors don’t actually “correct” bunions. They do, however, slow down the progression of the bunion. This will help to prevent other painful foot conditions that can create changes to your foot structure, like hammer toes.
The only way in which you can correct a bunion is with surgery. Surgery would also depend on the severity of the bunion or the severity of the deformity.
To prevent surgery, it’s always best to start treating the bunion with conservative treatments like bunion correctors. These orthotic devices not only reduce the symptoms of bunions, but they can help you from having to take more drastic measures.
What are the Different Types of Bunion Correctors?
There are a wide variety of bunion correctors that come in different designs and are made from different materials.
There is no single bunion corrector that’s right for every person. The one that will work best for you will depend on the progression of your bunions, your comfort, and when you intend to wear it.
Here are the most common types of bunion correctors:
Gel Bunion Protector
Gel bunion correctors are made from silicone gel, which is soft, flexible, and able to fit on a wide range of feet. They’re usually low-profile and soft enough on the skin to be able to walk with them on.
Some people may find that the gel bunion protectors can move out of place if their feet sweat. Some of these types of bunion correctors may also contain latex, which can be problematic for those who have latex allergies.
Fabric Bunion Protector
Fabric bunion correctors are either all-fabric, or use gel pads wrapped in soft fabric to support the bunion. Many of them have some compression, to help keep the toe gently aligned.
They are also better as bunion protectors rather than separators, as the thin fabric doesn’t place enough pressure on the toe to separate it from the others.
Fabric bunion correctors come in various types, some of which are thin and light and others are heavy and bulky.
A bunion splint is a device that holds the bunion in proper alignment. It’s made up of a supporting band that’s usually wrapped around the midfoot, and a rigid splint that runs from the support band to the toe.
The rigid splint runs down the outside of the foot, protecting and gently correcting the metatarsophalangeal joint. It wraps around the toe, bringing it back into natural alignment.
Some bunion splints are rigid all the way through, preventing the toe from moving while you wear them. Others have a hinge at the MTP joint, which allows you to walk while wearing the splint.
Bunion splints are not intended to be worn with footwear and should be used at home when barefoot.
Bunion pads are the most affordable bunion protectors. They are usually made of soft felt—either in a solid circular shape or an O-shape—with an adhesive backing.
You stick the bunion pad to the surface of the bunion and it protects the bunion from rubbing against the upper of your shoe. They are usually single-use, although you can stick one to the inside of your shoe for repeated use, but it can be hard to find the right position. If you are lucky, you can wear them for several showers or baths before they need to be replaced.