Women over the age of 40 are the group that is most likely to be affected by the onset of a bunion, but they certainly aren’t the only ones that deal with a problematic bunion. Some people deal with a bunion much earlier in life, even in adolescence. Pediatric bunions aren’t all that common, but they can be trickier to treat than a standard bunion on a patient in the typical demographic, so it deserves special attention. Below, we take a closer look at why pediatric bunions develop and how they can be best treated.
Why Do Kids Develop Bunions?
If you’re familiar with bunions and bunion development, you know that poorly-fitting shoes are the biggest contributor to the condition in an average patient. In children, while ill-fitting shoes can certainly make the problem worse, it’s typically not the lone cause. Big toe joint deformation typically develops after decades or pressure and stress, so irregular forces aren’t usually the only underlying cause when it develops in children and teens who haven’t been on their feet as long. More often, there is an underlying deformity in the ligaments of the metatarsophalangeal joint.
When the ligaments of this joint are loose, either from a developmental issue or as a result of acute trauma, the joint can become unstable and mobile. This can cause excess pressure to be placed on the joint with every step your child takes, shifting the big toe joint outward and leading to the onset of a bunion.
The good news is that for many children dealing with the beginning stages of a bunion, oftentimes the condition is asymptomatic, meaning that it doesn’t cause pain. The bump may be a little unsightly and there may be some discomfort when wearing certain types of shoes, but pain typically isn’t a symptom that is described in mild to moderate pediatric bunions. That being said, just because they aren’t causing pain, doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Left untreated, pediatric bunions can continue to worsen, leading to eventual pain and the possibility that the joint becomes arthritic.
Treating Pediatric Bunions
Treating bunions in children is a little different than how we go about treating a standard bunion. Because a foot typically stops growing around the age of 16, we are more hesitant to suggest surgery on a foot that is still developing. Even when the operation goes as planned, it can still affect the child’s growth plate. Moreover, there are conservative options that work to strengthen these loose metatarsophalangeal ligaments, meaning that the problem can often self-correct as bones and joints continue to develop alongside non-operative treatments. We don’t want to perform an operation when conservative treatments can do the trick, so oftentimes we really turn to non-operative options when looking to correct pediatric bunions.
Non-operative treatment options that may be used in conjunction with one another include:
Changing footwear to a more roomier option to take stress off the bunion.
Wearing a splint at night to help keep the joint in place.
Beginning a stretching or physical therapy routine to strengthen these loose supportive ligaments.
Orthotic inserts to help correct biomechanical issues contributing to your bunion.
If these treatments fail to provide relief and the surgeon is not concerned about growth plate issues, a minimally invasive surgical operation to realign the big toe joint may be recommended. These operations typically have a high success rate, but most patients do not need to progress to this level of care because they have seen progress with non-operative techniques.
If your child is showing signs of a bunion, or they complain about discomfort in their big toe joint, have them examined by Dr. Neufeld and the team at The Centers For Advanced Orthopaedics. We’ll provide a clear diagnosis and set you up with a care plan tailored to your individual needs. For more information, reach out to our clinic today.