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Bunion? Hammer toe? Ingrown toenail? What’s causing my foot pain?

Does foot pain dominate your day-to-day life? Whether you’re on your feet all day at work, put in a lot of miles on hard surfaces, or are feeling the consequences of unforgiving shoe styles, you don’t have to live with foot pain! Bunions, hammer toe, and ingrown toenails are three common causes of foot pain that can be addressed, often with non-surgical solutions. Learn more about causes, prevention and treatment options for all three.

Bunions

What causes bunions?

A bunion is a bony bump that develops slowly at the base of your big toe due to inward pressure on your toe joint, or arthritis. Bunions are very common – especially among women. In fact, almost one fourth of adults (age 18-65) have bunions. That number goes up to more than one third if you’re over 65.

Pressure pushes the top of your big toe toward your other toes, which in turn pushes the base of your toe outward, eventually causing a bump. Over time this bump – and the pain that comes with it – tend to get more extreme. 

How are bunions treated?

Typically, your orthopedic specialist will recommend non-surgical options first. These include adding padding or inserts to your shoes to reduce the pressure and changing the types of shoes that you wear to an option that doesn’t put pressure on your toes. Other non-surgical options include taking an anti-inflammatory medication.

When surgery is needed: When your bunion pain is too great to walk or wear shoes and other treatments are not helping enough, your doctor may recommend bunion surgery. Surgical methods may vary depending on your bunion, but generally serve to realign the joint and bring the big toe back to its intended position. Surgery is typically done on an outpatient basis.

Hammer toe

While bunions involve the big toe or baby toe (called a bunionette), hammer toe impacts any of the middle three toes. As the name implies, the toe takes the shape of a hammer as it bends at the middle joint. Poor fitting shoes, paired with other factors, are often the culprit in hammer toe cases too. Pressure forces the toe into a bent position and over time the muscles cannot straighten.

What’s the best treatment for hammer toe?

It’s important to seek diagnosis and treatment of a hammer toe, because they are more easily corrected when not severe. When left untreated, they are more likely to become rigid and require surgery. Treatment again starts with wearing shoes that better fit your forefoot.  Avoiding narrow shoes, and especially high heels with narrow toe boxes is especially important. 

There’s also physical therapy for your toes! This includes stretches and even exercises that strengthen your toes to allow them to return to their intended resting position. You can practice picking things (like a marble) up off the floor or use your toes to scrunch a cloth or towel. There are also a variety of pads and cushions that might help relieve your symptoms too.

If exercise and shoe changes do not help, surgery can be performed to straighten the joint. This is also an outpatient procedure with a fairly short recovery.

Ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails – a condition where skin grows over the side of the nail or the nail begins to grow into the skin – often cause swelling and pain. It’s most commonly seen on the big toe.  You can prevent ingrown toenails or at least minimize their likelihood by being careful not to cut your nails too short and avoiding rounding their shape at the corners. Trauma, or shoes that are too short or too tight can also contribute to ingrown toenails. 

Ingrown toenail treatment

Because they are painful, people typically want to treat them quickly. This is also a good idea to avoid infection and the need for further treatment. You can soak your foot in warm water to ease the pain but be sure the foot is clean and dry at other times. Again (surprise!) wear comfortable shoes, or even sandals. If you can (gently) separate the toenail from the skin, you can use a bit of cotton swap or dental floss to create some separation while it heals.  Make sure you change this wrapping out daily and keep it clean to avoid infection.

If you have considerable swelling, pain or puss, an infection is likely, and you should see a doctor. They can either partially or fully remove the nail and prescribe antibiotics if necessary.

Whether one of these three foot conditions matches up with your symptoms or not, taking great care of your feet should always be a priority.  If you have chronic foot pain that’s impacting your ability to work, walk or exercise, it may be time to see a podiatric specialist. Schedule a time to come see us (in roomy comfortable shoes, of course)!

Dr. Fred Hainge is one of CCOE’s board-certified podiatric surgeons specializing in foot and ankle conditions.

Do You Need to Have Bunions Removed?

A bunion is a rather common deformity of the foot. Bunions most often occur in females and usually are caused by wearing high-heeled shoes or shoes that are too tight, pointed, or narrow. Bunions can also be hereditary. Medical conditions like osteoarthritis can also contribute to the formation of a bunion. Most people who have bunions simply resign themselves that they are a part of life, surely unsightly and sometimes painful, but far from a medical emergency. But what if the bunions become too painful or make it hard to do the things you love to do? Do you need to have your bunions removed?

How Do Bunions Form?

Bunions occur when pressure causes the bones at the base of the big toe to become misaligned. Over time, this pressure causes the base of the big toe to become enlarged and sometimes even filled with fluid.  This causes a large and often painful bump to form at the joint on the side of the foot, near the big toe. In addition to the bunion itself, the skin at the bottom of your foot can also thicken, causing painful calluses to form. The bunion and the calluses can make it difficult and painful to walk, wear shoes, or even bend your toes. In addition to being painful, a bunion can make your foot look deformed or awkward by forcing your big toe to lean towards your second toe, and the other toes lean into or overlap each other.

Treatment Options

To diagnose a bunion, your doctor will review your medical history, and examine and take x-rays of your foot. The x-rays show the doctor the alignment and condition of the bones in your foot. If the doctor determines that you indeed have a bunion, there are several treatment options available, which include:

Changing shoes:  Sometimes simply changing to a wider or properly fitting shoe with a lower heel can alleviate the pain and may help treat the bunion.

Protective padding:  Wearing foam or felt pads – sometimes called spreaders – between your toes or on your foot can help protect the foot from further callousing and force the bones to realign over time.

Shoe inserts:  A foot specialist can create custom-made inserts, often called orthotics, that can properly position your toes to relieve the pressure and pain.

When Surgery Becomes an Option

Surgery becomes a valid option when the above non-surgical treatments provide little relief to restore the alignment of the bones, tendons, joints, nerves, and ligaments.  During surgery, the toes are placed in their proper positions and the bump is removed, thereby relieving pain and restoring function over time. There are many different surgical techniques for treating bunions, most of which yield excellent results.

Is It Necessary to Have Surgery to Remove Bunions?

The choice to remove bunions surgically is a personal one. If your bunion is not painful and doesn’t bother you, then you may opt not to get surgery. However, bunions do get bigger with time. If you’ve tried non-surgical treatments and they did not help your pain, or if your bunion has become so large that it impedes your daily activities, then you may want to speak to your doctor about surgery. Many people find that the pain from bunions is so severe or that their foot is so severely deformed that the benefits of having the bunions removed far outweigh any negatives.  Many patients report a big improvement in quality of life after having their bunions removed.

Is your bunion getting in the way of your life? The board-certified podiatric surgeons at Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence specialize in treating foot and ankle conditions such as bunions. We ensure the best patient care possible, combined with compassion and respect.  If you have any questions, or to schedule an appointment, call (719) 623-1050 or use our online form to request an appointment online.

Five Disorders that Podiatrists Can Treat

There’s an Irish proverb:  “Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.” But what about when your feet are hurting?  Taking that first step to where your heart is can be harder than you think.

Recent research from Stanford University found that the average American takes nearly 5,000 steps daily – and that’s not counting running or working out. There’s no denying your feet are the body’s workhorses, which makes them susceptible to a variety of structural, biomechanical, and cosmetic issues. A board-certified podiatric surgeon can be a valuable resource, offering techniques and procedures to mitigate your pain from a variety of conditions, as well as increase your mobility.   Here are five disorders you can rely on your podiatrist to treat:

1.   Plantar Fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, joining your heel bone with your toes.  Runners, people carrying excessive weight (whether overweight, pregnant, or forced to carry heavy objects such as backpacks or equipment), and those in occupations that require prolonged standing, are all at risk at developing plantar fasciitis. Inadequate or unsupportive footwear is another culprit. This painful condition, which is marked by a stabbing pain underneath the foot, is one of the most commonly cited reasons for heel pain.

How it’s treated. A podiatrist may recommend several at-home remedies to alleviate your pain. This could include maintaining a healthy weight, ice massage, investing in the appropriate shoes with the right fit and support, and switching to a low-impact sport.  A foot and ankle specialist will be able to diagnose this condition, as well as test for pain with a pressure test. They may recommend rigid, custom orthotic inserts that will realign the foot, provide arch support, and prevent this issue in the future.  Offering treatment round the clock, a night splint will provide consistent, automatic stretching during shuteye – making morning time a little less unpleasant.  He may also recommend anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, and deep icing.

2.   Bunions

Their medical name, Hallus Valgus, sound impressive.  But in reality, this lofty name is nothing but bunions, and anyone with bunions already has enough names to call this painful, unsightly condition.  To understand Hallus Valgus, you must first understand how they form. Developing gradually over time, bunions form as pressure on the big toe that pushes it toward the second toe. This can cause structural changes when the joints becomes misaligned, resulting in the large protruding lump that is the most common characteristic of bunions.  Smaller bunions are called “bunionettes,” but don’t let the cute name fool you.  They are just as unsightly and painful as their larger cousins.

How they’re treated. A reputable podiatrist will first offer conservative approaches; this could include bunion padding, icing, toe spacers, orthotics, and/or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling. Should the pain persist, the doctor might recommend a bunionectomy, where the surgeon will shave down the bunion and realign the toes.

3.   Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot, known as Tinea Pedia, is the most common type of fungal infection.  This fungus gravitates toward the feet because shoes and places like locker rooms and pool decks promote the warm, moist, dark breeding ground where fungus thrive. 

How it’s treated. Your podiatrist can prescribe topical or oral antifungal meds to make it disappear. If bacteria are to blame, you may require an antibiotic.

4.   Diabetes

Diabetics are no stranger to podiatric concerns as a result of high blood sugar and reduced nerve functioning, which can prevent the skin from healing and reduce blood flow to the feet, respectively.

How it’s treated. Ten percent of all diabetics experience a foot ulcer at some point in their life. One of the most startling aspects is that diabetics often don’t notice foot pain until after the ulcer has formed. Podiatrists can provide yearly foot examinations to determine if a patient shows any symptoms. They can also “dress” and protect the affected area, so it may heal properly.

5.   Gout

Many people are aware that arthritis can take a toll on the hands, but what about the feet? When high levels of uric acid build up the blood, urate crystals form near the joints causing abrupt, severe attacks of pain, inflammation, redness, and tenderness in the joints.

How it’s treated.  Gout usually manifests in the joint at the bottom of the big toe, and often is triggered by food and drinks with greater levels of uric acid, such as meat, shellfish, and poultry. Your physician can recommend which items to steer clear of; he may also suggest a regimen of NSAIDs and corticosteroids to control pain and reduce inflammation. In some cases, a uric-acid blocker may be prescribed.

Don’t walk away from podiatric issues! Address them head on with the help of a reputable and trustworthy podiatric specialist. Dr. Frederick Hainge of The Colorado Center for Orthopaedic Excellence is a board-certified podiatric surgeon who diagnoses and treats a variety of foot and ankle disorders. For happy feet, take that first step and schedule an appointment today by calling 719-623-1050.