As you have likely learned from previous articles and blogposts on this site, bunions are a complex deformity of the foot - not just a bump on the side of it. So in previous posts you have read about the types of conservative treatments that alleviate pain and slow the progression down and you've also likely read about how and why surgery is performed. Now we are seeing advertisements for Anti-Bunion platform sandals that claim to correct your bunion without the need for surgery.
If you meander over to the website for Sweet and Rosy, you will see convincing animations, pictures of well pedicured feet in the sandals and a lot of reviews stating that these are the most comfortable sandals. No only will you read that it will correct your bunion but you will also notice touting that they will improve alignment of your knee, hip and back to relieve pain higher up. So can this alluring claim be true?
I believe that this sandal could be very comfortable. It may be supportive for your feet - certainly it looks better built than the typical flat foam flipflop. The material on top holding your foot to the sole may even provide some compression to you foot and it doesn't appear to have material in areas that would typically dig into a prominence on the big toe joint. That being said, I have a difficult time believing that it would be a successful alternative to surgical correction of a bunion if the goal is to literally correct the bunion.
There are definitely some shoes better than others for support and that allow better accommodation (or room) for a prominence. If I were to try these sandals I may find that they are very comfortable. However, a bunion is the result of instability over time or in some cases uneven closure of growth plates in young feet. If the latter is the case, the bones shape cannot be changed by simply wearing a shoe or sandal. If the former is the case, the instability over time allows for the prominence to become more noticeable and it also means that over time the joints in the foot adapt to this position which is why bunions are not completely reducible with pushing/pulling on the foot in the office (or I suppose at home).
Another consideration is that the sandals are not permanently afixed to your foot. This would be a problem for a multitude of reasons - hygiene most prominently in my mind. So that being said, unless you wear the sandals with every step you take, they can only offer so much benefit. If support and strapping had ever been shown to reverse a bunion conservatively, there would be a lot of doctors out there strapping patients' big toes and casting them for a couple of months rather than taking them to surgery. This just isn't the case unfortunately.
So why would a doctor recommend custom orthotic inserts? By what I just said, it seems they would also have limited benefit because they aren't always on the foot. What we discuss with our patients is that if a patient has a smaller bunion, the use of orthotics for a majority of weightbearing and high impact activity helps to stabilize the muscular imbalance that contributes to the progression of bunions. Notice the word 'custom' here as well. Any pre-fabricated insert or shoe or sandal does not take into account the position of your heel and foot which contributes to these muscular imbalances - a custom orthotic does. When a patient has a smaller bunion our goal is to slow down the progression of the deformity which in many cases means that the small bunion doesn't grow or become painful which means surgery would then be unnecessary. In cases where our patients have tried everything else and are faced with surgery, custom orthotics help to prevent recurrence by the same principles as described above. They are also used to help re-distribute weightbearing pressure after you've healed from surgery which decreases the likelihood of transfer pressure.
So the moral of the story is, I do not believe that a sandal can remove a bunion. Based on years of experience, I don't see how a shoe or sandal of any kind can undo or reverse a complex deformity that has resulted from years and years of altered mechanics of the feet. That being said, these sandals may well serve a purpose for patients who have bunion pain and are trying to put off or avoid bunion surgery. If they are a supportive option that accommodates for the prominence in a patient's foot, they may not be a bad option for summer footwear. To say for sure, I'd have to try them out and of course I would report back on what I find!