A bunion regulator is a type of splint or brace that is used to protect and correct a large bunion on the big toe. When the splint is worn regularly, it helps to straighten the toe and reduce the size of the bony protrusion on the outer edge of the joint. Regulators are frequently used in combination with other conservative bunion treatment measures to prevent the need for surgery. An individual who believes he or she might be able to benefit from a bunion regulator can discuss options with a podiatrist.
There are many different types of bunion regulators available, though all models provide the same basic function. Most regulators are comprised of a band of elastic cloth tissue that wraps around the foot just above the toe line. Attached to the band is a piece of padded plastic or metal that runs from the top of the foot to the space in between the big toe and the neighboring digit. Resistance from the band puts light, constant pressure on the inner side of the big toe, gradually helping it move back into alignment. Additional padding on most models helps provide cushioning and prevent rubbing and irritation.
Since a bunion regulator can make it difficult to walk, it is usually worn at night while a person sleeps. The pressure is generally light enough to be unnoticeable, especially when compared to the general pain that a bunion already causes. During the day, a person can find relief by wearing comfortable shoes with cushioning inserts. Bunion pads and wraps are available to provide additional cushioning in between the toes and on the outside of the joint. Resting and icing the foot regularly can also provide relief.
Pharmacies, supermarkets, and online specialty stores typically sell over-the-counter bunion regulators. If possible, it is worthwhile to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist before investing in a bunion regulator or another orthotic device. A specialist can examine the toe and help the patient make the best treatment choice. He or she can recommend a specific over-the-counter product or fit the patient with a custom-made bunion regulator.
By following a podiatrist's recommendations, a bunion can usually be corrected in a few weeks or months. If pain, swelling, and misalignment persist despite wearing a bunion regulator, a patient may need to undergo surgery. A bunionectomy can be performed by an orthopedic surgeon or trained podiatrist to remove the bony protrusion and manually force the toe back into place.