What does a 30-year-old doctor and a 35-year-old marathon runner have in common with Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) and Victoria Beckham? Why, bunions of course! The bony bumps afflict these folks and about 30% of the population in the country. While this tootsie trouble is often seen as a feminine problem, and yes women are more susceptible to developing the condition, there are certainly a lot of men out there who have just as big of an issue with their wayward toe joint as the fairer sex.
Hello all you lovers of nature aided and nature inspired healthy living. This is Olivia, your friendly essential oil gal and today, we are going to talk about an issue that starts small but has the potential of ruining your runners if not treated in time. I had heard about bunions and seen them a few times, but the realization of just how ugh-worthy they are struck only when I saw SJP sporting them.
In fact, the sight of those bunions was enough to put me off the idea of wearing high heels for the rest of my life and this from a certified shoe. But like many women out there, eventually my addiction prevailed over my fear and better senses and I reckoned that instead of giving up on my shoe fetish, I ought to start looking for cures and preventative measures for bunions. And that was the starting point of what we are going to discuss here today. But before all else…
I am going to address the elephant in the room!
Real quickly, I am going to tell you what is secret of discrediting a product/substance/idea/treatment that actually works. Simple, you just go ahead and play up the things that it cannot do/accomplish and what you have essentially done is handed over a bunch of rocks to the “nay-sayers”, on a silver platter no less, so that they can pelt away to their heart’s content.
And this is exactly what some essential oil enthusiasts are doing. Now, you all know that essential oils are my one true love. But, I still take every opportunity to debunk the myth that these oils are magic potions that can cure almost all ailments known to mankind.
Undoubtedly, the volatile oils have superlative anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and analgesic properties. Plus, they cover both the mind and the body in one fell swoop. But despite all of that, they are still just extracts and not some form of ambrosia.
That said, let me get straight to the point. Will your bunion(s) melt away magically upon the application of some secret essential oil formula? Hell, No! Will you be able to control the pain and inflammation with these oils? Yes!
What you need to understand clearly about bunions is that they are structural change, so you cannot treat/cure them by any means topical. With that out of the way, let us start talking about this painful condition.
What Are Bunions?
Their name is inspired by the Greek word for turnip, perhaps because of their shape and hardness that resembles the attributes of the vegetable. Scientifically, the condition is known as hallux valgus. It is a deformity of the joint that connects the big toe to the feet. The bony protrusion is actually the head of a misaligned first metatarsal bone.
The problem gets compounded and the bump grows larger as the joints move more out of alignment, thus exposing the bursal sac (fluid filled sac that keeps the joints moving comfortably). In turn, this leads to greater inflammation and possible calcification or anomalous growth on the metatarsal joint.
If all of that was too technical for you, let me explain the condition in layman terms. The joint at the base of your big toe goes ass-up, protrudes out and exposes a tender part that is usually kept protected. Your body reacts badly to this intrusion of privacy and goes loca on you with inflammation and hardening of the exposed area.
Now, there are a lot of feet issues that often get wrongfully tagged as bunions and vice versa. The hall mark of this condition is a misaligned big toe. Normally, your first tootsie should point straight ahead but if it starts cozying up to your second toe, trying to kiss it even, and you have a bump at the base joint, that is a bunion you are dealing with.
There is also a little toe version of this condition. It is believed that tailors with their cross legged posture often suffered from it, hence the eponymous name tailor’s bunion or a bunionette, since it appears on the joint of the little toe.
So, What Causes The Notorious And Ungainly Bunions To Appear?
They have a bit of a “which came first the chicken or the egg” problem with this ailment. The cause and effect of bunions still baffles experts. So, they are not sure if the unnatural inward tilt of the toe causes the joint to misalign or if the misalignment happens first, which causes the toe to tilt inward.
The ailment is influenced by genetics, gender and age. So, women are more prone to suffering from it, as are seniors and people whose parents also suffered from the condition. In fact, because so many women are walking around with bunions, it led to the assumption that heels may be the cause of bunions.
But, don’t trash those pumps already! Recent research has revealed that although the type of shoes you wear (not just high heels) can exacerbate the problem, the core issue is the hereditary structure of the feet and its joints, which predisposes a person to suffer from bunions. That said, typically causes that lead to the condition include:
- Arthritis or any form of bone/joint degenerative/inflammatory diseases that impact the skeletal structure and components of the feet
- Instability of the joints in the feet caused by faulty weight bearing on the tendons and the feet
- Flat feet
- Injuries to the ankle and the foot
- Conditions and deformities that impact the muscles, nerves and joints in the legs and feet like polio
If you’re already suffering from any of the above issues or have a close relative who suffers from the condition, the following risk factors will increase your chances of suffering from bunions.
- Shoes that are too tight or narrow at the toes
- High heel shoes (anything above 1 inch poses a risk)
- Siting or standing for several hours a day
- Running injuries and even impact
- Frequently lifting heavy weights
- Improper weight distribution on the feet
How Do You Know A Bunion Is On Its Way Or If It Has Already Hit You?
- Like all other issues concerning the joints and bones of your body, bunions too announce their arrival with pain, stiffness and inflammation. Plus, the protrusion that starts off as a slight bump is hard to miss.
- As the inflammation and the misalignment increase, you will experience greater swelling, redness and pain around the affected joint. It is crucial to remember here that the condition develops gradually. So, the bouts of pain may not be intense or frequent at first. The discomfort may also be felt as a burning sensation.
- As the condition progresses, you may experience restricted movement of the toe. You will see visible changes in the alignment of the toe as it may even start to overlap the second and/or third toe.
- Even when the protrusion is relatively minor, you may develop corns, calluses and blisters on and around the joint. The skin at the base of the big toe may also thicken.
How Are Bunions Treated?
1. Because they are still not sure about the exact cause of bunions, experts stress on prevention over cure. So, if you go to your physician complaining of achy feet, you will be told to rest or exercise them as applicable and wear comfortable and appropriate fitting shoes.
2. If it is too late for prevention, conservative treatment modalities come up first. So, you will be asked to use shoe inserts or orthotics that take the pressure off the toe and padding to prevent blisters. Taping and splinting will also be recommended to stop the inward incline of the toe. For the pain at this stage, doctors typically recommend an ice pack or OTC pain killers. Foot exercises and some form of physiotherapy may also be prescribed.
3. Once you reach the next stage of the problem where the protrusion is significant as is the pain, the doctor may recommend cortisone injections to relieve the discomfort and the inflammation. Particularly, if the bursa is also involved and you have trouble walking, injections to the joint will help to ease the swelling. But, this is a temporary measure at best, which will only provide relief for a few months.
4. Surgery is only recommended as the last resort because it involves months of recuperation time. You will have to stay off your feet/foot as the joint heals and the incision is bound to leave a scar. So, a surgical procedure is only considered a year or two after the diagnosis of the issue and only if nothing else has worked to rein in the pain.
The corrective procedure will usually involve the repair of the tendons and ligaments and even shortening of the weak tissues that hold the joint. All of this is done in a bid to lengthen the toe. Moreover, the joint is stabilized by using plates, pins and screws.
If this does not work and the inflammation and swelling in the joint prevail, the inflamed joint surface is removed and plates and screws are used to hold the bones in place as the joint heals. This is a more advanced procedure that is only recommended when the patient has severe pain, significant loss of mobility and possibly arthritis. Any abnormal bone growths as well as damaged parts of the toe joint may also be removed to facilitate healing.
Will Bunions Go Away On Their Own!
Once you let bunions get out of hands, they will be your companions for life, unless you literally have them cut out of your body or the joint put back in shape surgically. Fortunately, the problem has a slow rate of progression, which means that even if you could not prevent it, you do get the time to stop it from turning into a major issue.
However, if you choose to ignore it, the pain, misalignment and inflammation will eventually lead to other problems. Think of it this way, once an important support structure of a building collapses, it is only a matter of time before the other components give way. So, if you don’t pay heed to the pain, bulging and inflammation, you risk other complications such as:
- Hammer toe: This is when the second toe develops an abnormal bend as well but this time it’s the middle joint that takes a hit. As you may have guessed, the position of the joint hardly matters when there is misalignment involved; there is bound to be pain, tenderness and swelling. With a hammer toe hounding you, two of those tootsies will be out of action and you will have twice the pain.
- Bursitis: As the joint tilts deeper on the other side, the fluid filled sac which is meant to cushion and protect the bone heads gets pinched and hence inflamed. This simply adds to both the pain and the loss of movement.
- Metatarsalgia: Like I explained earlier, any problem related to the bones or joints impacts all the structural components in that part of the body. As the bunions increase in size, the pressure exerted on the other parts of your feet lead to inflammation and pain in the ball of the foot.
If left unchecked, bunions can eventually lead to bone loss and permanent damage that can cause arthritis. So, if you are experiencing persistent toe/foot pain or have a visible bump at the base of your big toe or are experiencing problems with movement, you should definitely see an orthopedic foot specialist.
Why Use Essential Oils For Bunions When They Cannot Treat The Problem?
When it comes to mild to moderate cases of bunions, your biggest problems will be the pain and the inflammation and few things out there can help with these issues as much as essential oils. In fact, I strongly recommend a three-pronged approach to halting the progression of bunions. This involves oils for soothing, exercise for gait correction and external prosthetics to take the pressure off the joint.
When you exercise and use external force to keep the joint in alignment, this is bound to cause some soreness. Using an essential oil blend will soothe the ligaments and muscles that are stretched in the process. In other words, the pain relief that these volatile oils offers will keep you on track with your exercise and realignment regimen.
1. German Chamomile
With its anti-inflammatory and healing properties, this essential oil helps to work out tendon and muscle soreness and control swelling and redness.
The calming effect of sweet marjoram oil coupled with its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, makes it ideal for bunion pain and soreness.
The bioactive components of cypress essential oil like limonene, a-pinene, carveol and others help to curb inflammation and pain.
4. Juniper Berry
Another essential oil with notable anti-inflammatory and healing properties, this extract derived from an evergreen shrub will not just control the pain and inflammation but will also help in the speedy removal of the toxins accumulated in the affected area.
A potent adaptogen and analgesic, Basil oil helps to reduce swelling, redness and joint stiffness caused by bunions.
A veritable classic when it comes to pain relief, the cooling sensation created by peppermint oil relieves muscle and joint pain.
This stimulating and warming oil is effective against all types of muscle and joint pains.
Considered the gold standard as far natural pain treatment goes, wintergreen oil has anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties that work well even on severe bunions.
The warming and stimulating effects of eucalyptus oil help to check both the pain and the swelling caused by bunions.
Apart from these, lavender, frankincense, lemon, geranium and lemon grass essential oils also work on bunions when you want to tone down the inflammation, redness and the swelling. Similarly, the warming and healing properties of black pepper, clove and ginger can be put to use against bunion related pain and loss of mobility.
Top 5 Essential Oil Recipes For Bunions
1. Soothing massage blend for bunions
A 10 minute massage with this soothing oil/lotion will tackle the pain and the inflammation caused by bunions as well as the muscle and tendon fatigue linked to uneven weight distribution across the feet. You will need:
- 60 ml carrier oil (mustard seed carrier oil, sesame seed oil or virgin olive oil preferred)
- 10 drops each of German chamomile and peppermint
- 5 drops each of winter green and ginger
- 3 drops each of basil and sweet marjoram
Pour the oils together in a bowl and mix well. Remove into a dark colored glass bottle and store away from direct heat and moisture. To use, apply as you would any lotion/massage oil.
While massaging, press the protruding joint gently inwards with your thumb while keeping your fingers in between the big and the second toe to maintain the alignment of the digits. For greater relief, use a heating pad on your feet after a 10-15 minute massage. This blend works particularly well after a round of feet/leg exercises.
2. A pain relieving soak for your tired tootsies
Whether your bunions are just starting to show or you have already reached the stage where surgery seems like a requirement, this soothing soak will help with the tenderness, swelling and pain. You will need:
- A cup of Epsom salt
- 10 drops lavender
- 5 drops each of juniper berry, geranium and frankincense
- A tsp of milk (dairy or other)
- A tub large enough to soak your feet in, filled with hot water (bearably hot)
Mix the oils with the milk and add this blend to the water along with the Epsom salts. Agitate to disperse the oils in the water and then soak your feet in it for 15-20 minutes. As you soak those tired and aching dogs, curl your toes as if you are trying to pick up marbles with them. Hold the position for 5 seconds then let go. Repeat 5 times and do 5 sets of this exercise. This treatment can be repeated twice a day.
Another option is the L’orpur Soothing Therapy Foot Gel.
3. The hot oil compress for bunions
If your bunions have also paved the way for arthritis to rear its ugly head, this soothing warm compress will help to relieve the pain and the stiffness in your joints. You will need:
- A cup of castor oil
- 4 drops each of clove and ginger
- 10 drops peppermint
- 7 drops each of lemon and cypress
Heat the castor oil in a pan or in the microwave till it’s warm enough for you to feel the heat but not hot enough to cause burns. Remove in a glass bowl and add the essential oils to it and stir until all the oils have been mixed well.
Dip a piece of gauze, a ball of cotton wool or an old handkerchief in the oil and apply directly on top of the bunion, if possible covering the affected joint as well as the entire big toe. Let it stay on the bunion till it cools. Continue repeating till the oil cools and do this twice a day for reprieve from bunion pain as well as joint stiffness.
4. Popsicle for when you need relief from the burning pain of bunions
When your bunions are causing significant pain and a burning sensation or if you have significant swelling at the affected joint, this cooling and soothing recipe will help to contain the inflammation and the pain. You will need:
- 5 drops each of rosemary and peppermint
- 3 drops eucalyptus
- A cup of strong green tea (use double the quantity of leaves as you normally do)
- Paper cup/ice cube tray
Brew a cup of strong green tea and set it aside to cool. Once the concoction is at room temperature, add the essential oils to it and stir well. Pour into a disposable plastic cup or an ice cube tray and freeze. To use, put the ice cubes in an old handkerchief and apply the cold compress on the bunions or if you have more than just 1 popsicle/tray, put them into a small tub filled with a mixture of water and a cup of Himalayan pink salt. Soak your feet in this cooling mix to get instant relief from pain and burning.
5. “Make pain go away” roller ball blend for bunions
This anti-inflammatory blend works even for severe bunions and arthritis of the big toe. It will not only chase away the soreness but also the inflammation and the swelling. You will need:
- 7 drops each of chamomile, marjoram and lemongrass
- 2 drops black pepper
- 5 drops each of peppermint and rosemary
- 4 drops eucalyptus
- 60 ml black seed oil or any carrier oil of your choice
As always, mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle with a roller ball head. To use, apply with the roller right on top of the bunions, 2-3 times a day.
Home Treatments And Lifestyle Changes For Bunions
The right shoes can go a long way in preventing bunions and treating bunion pain
If you already have bunions, it will help to lay off the heels for a while or at least when you intend to spend the day on your feet. Also, high heels or flats, stay away from pointy or narrow toe box shoes. Ideally, pick footwear with a square or a round toe box that does not squish your toes together.
This is for all you ladies out there. If you have been wearing the same show size since your dogs stopped growing in your late teens, it may be time for a fitting. After childbirth, the ligaments in the feet relax, giving more length and width to your feet. A trip to a reputable show store will help you to get your correct shoe size along with footwear that is easy on those ol’ dogs.
Give those bunions some TLC
Well if you have bunions, you can’t do anything else but learn to live with them, sort of like an annoying sibling. Since your bunion and you will be spending a lifetime together, why not show it some LOVE. Simple (non-medicated) mole skin pads, gauze or gel will protect the bony bumps from friction blisters.
Orthotics and flexible braces will help with the pain
You get feet/bunion sling in flexible versions that can be worn inside the shoe and non-flexible styles that have to be worn at night. My take on the matter is that it makes sense to use a sling/brace when you are actually putting your runners to use and when the over-pronation happens.
As far as orthotics are concerned, these help to check pronation and arch problems. So, definitely a worthy purchase that you should consider even if you don’t have bunions.
Foot exercise can stop further misalignment and tone down the discomfort
A walk on the sand, the highly recommended “pick the marbles with your toes” exercise and even pretending to write the alphabets on the floor with your toe tip will help to work the muscle and the ligaments in your feet.
Apart from these, yoga exercise like the warrior and triangle poses help to even out pressure and weight distribution across the feet.
Although not a serious medical condition, bunions can cause a significant amount of pain if you ignore them or continue to work the joint that is on its way to misalignment. So, at the first sign of soreness or the sight of a bump, you need to get proactive with your treatment approach.
Yes bunions are an eyesore! But there is no reason why you cannot live with this foot deformity as long as you offer your runners proper care and protection. So, get ready to put your feet and those essential oils to work. And on that note, here is wishing you guys pain free and if possible bunion free feet for the rest of your lives!