Admit it: If we asked you “what does a person with bunions look like?” you’d probably imagine either an older woman, or maybe a celebrity or supermodel after wearing nothing but high heels for 15 years straight. However, you don’t necessarily have to be older, a woman, or even a fan of heels to develop this painful misalignment of the toe joint. Sometimes they can even show up in children, adolescents, and young adults, too. Fortunately, our team can help your child deal with their pediatric bunion so that they can enjoy a lifetime of healthy feet!
Why Do Kids Get Bunions?
It’s a misperception that bunions are always caused by old age or bad choices (like shoe use). In fact, the biggest risk factor for bunion development is genetic. Often, people inherit a faulty foot structure from their parents. That foot structure, and the way it cushions and balances weight and impact forces, might lead to weakness and instability in the joint at the base of the big toe. Over time, the toe drifts out of alignment and the bunion begins to form.
Certain medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis, are associated with a higher risk of bunion development in kids. Furthermore, as with adults, juvenile bunions are more common in girls than boys. However, healthy children of any gender can get them, whether or not their parents or grandparents had them as well (though family history is a significant risk factor).
The Lifecycle of an Adolescent Bunion
Just like bunions that develop later in life, bunions in kids typically start small and without symptoms, but get progressively worse over time. Without treatment, the bunion eventually will get larger and more painful, and it may become much more difficult for your child to fit into shoes or to walk or play sports comfortably.
Childhood bunions must be taken extremely seriously, even more so than bunions that appear later in life. When a child already has a bunion without the decades of wear and tear that most people require, it’s a good indication of a significant structural flaw that must be addressed. Furthermore, kids obviously still have a long life ahead of them, and helping them preserve good feet so they can establish lifelong healthy habits is critical for their long-term quality of life.
How We Treat Pediatric Bunions
The earlier you bring your child in to see our team of specialists, the better we can help. Stopping or slowing the progression as early as possible provides the best long-term prognosis, and can help your child stay active and avoid surgery—or at least delay it until adulthood.
Conservative approaches may include the likes of:
- Sticking with comfortable shoes with a lot of cushioning, support, and wiggle space for toes.
- Prefabricated or custom orthotic insoles to accommodate any structural foot flaws and prevent future destabilization of the joint.
- Splints, worn at night, that help keep the toe pointed in the correct direction.
- Padding to protect the bony bump from painful friction.
- Stretches and exercises designed to reduce tension in tight tendons, as well as strengthen the muscles responsible for straightening and supporting the toe joint.
When it comes to kids, we try to delay the need for surgical correction as long as possible. That’s good general purpose advice, of course. But in order for the procedure to have the best chance for a long-term positive outcome, we want to wait until the bones and skeleton have fully matured, usually by the mid to late teens.
If your child does need surgery, we will take as much time as necessary to diagnose the causes of the condition, consider all options, and fully explain them to you and your child so that you are well prepared. Sometimes, the surgery to realign and reposition the toe bones and eliminate the bunion may be combined with other procedures, such as correcting a curved foot, flat arch, or tight Achilles tendon. The idea is that we not only correct the bunion, but also any underlying foot issues that caused the destabilization of the toe joint in the first place.
Our expert podiatry team knows feet inside and out, and can advise you and your child on the best course of action regarding pediatric bunions. Contact us today to set up a consultation with your son or daughter. You can complete a contact form online to request a time, or give us a call directly at (480) 963-9000.