You normally think of bunions as something middle-aged people have. But, they affect children and teens too. Surprisingly, podiatrists see a surprising number of parents concerned with bunions their children have.
The first thing to know is that bunions are not normal in children. While they may argue they don’t want to deal with them so they can wear certain shoes or don’t look stupid in front of their friends, bunions cause a significant amount of pain in children and need to be addressed immediately. This prevents increased pain and discomfort, as well as reducing the potential for surgery.
By itself, a “bunion” refers to a bony prominence near your big toe. What differs between adults and children is the structural cause of the bunion.
In adults, a bunion forms because of structural misalignment in the big toe. For children, however, the bones point in too much or the big toe joint’s cartilage has shifted. Children typically have bunions as a result of genetics.
Early on, bunions show no obvious symptoms in children. However, symptoms do progress. Eventually, you may hear your child complain about having a hard time finding shoes that fit. They may have swelling near the base of their big toe. The big toe joint may be loose or floppy, or the same may happen with their ligaments.
In most cases, podiatrists will recommend children try non-surgical options for bunion treatment first. Toe splints may be used at night to push the big toe back into its proper position. Supportive shoe gear or orthotics may be recommended. An advantage children have is that their bones are malleable and respond to these kinds of treatments.
However, surgery may eventually become necessary if none of these treatments succeed. It may also be used if the bunion has been noticed in its later stages. Podiatrists will only recommend surgery if your child is experiencing significant pain and has no other options. They won’t suggest surgery as an alternative simply to improve the look of your child’s foot. Typically, girls’ skeletons are mature and can handle bunion surgery between 13-15, while boys can do the same at 15-17.
Unfortunately, bunions have a high rate of recurrence, even after surgery. This can be minimized when contributing factors to the bunion are controlled. And, postponing surgery until skeletal maturity happens helps to reduce the rate of recurrence.