My Guide To Coping With Painful Bunions (Why Did I Do This To Myself?)
When I read Alison’s article on bunions a few months ago, I was left with a feeling of deep disappointment. Not because of the piece -- I found it super-informative and well written. I felt sad because I wished I had read it years ago, as a preteen or even earlier. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have the same awful foot problems that I have now.
I have bunions, and not little teeny ones like Alison; mine are big and constantly swollen, especially on my right foot. My feet are, well, a little deformed at this point, and I’ve been told surgery will be necessary for me sometime in the future. In the meantime, I’m forced to deal with almost constant pain and I have an extremely hard time finding shoes that fit comfortably.
In my case, it's hard to say whether or not the bunions could’ve been prevented. My grandmother had them and since there is some science that shows that bunions may be hereditary, I may have been doomed from the start. I’ve also always had issues with pronation, a problem I struggled with when doing cross country running in high school. Pronation basically means my foot turns in when I walk or run, putting more weight on the inside sole of my foot. This abnormal movement combined with all the sports I did as a teen may have also sped the bunion-forming process along. Personally though, I think it was high heels that did it.
I’ve loved high heels for as long as I can remember. When I asked my mom if she knew when I first started wearing heels, she replied “I’d say since you were a toddler!” and that sounds about right to me. I had clear jelly shoes with blue water and fish in the heels that my parents bought me while on vacation in Palm Springs. I also had heeled Spice Girls-style sneakers and cork wedges with denim straps, all before the age of 10.
When I hit high school, my obsession continued. I was really into "Mean Girls" at the time, so I made all these strange rules for myself, including “wear heels every day except Friday” (lets just say I didn’t have a very good sense of self-identity at that time). I became known at school as High Heel Girl and looking back I don’t think it was meant as a compliment. It was around that time that my feet really started to hurt.
I went to the doctor, and sure enough, I had bunions on both feet. My doctor at the time didn’t tell me anything about shoes, spacers or exercises like Alison recommended. She just explained that I would need surgery at some point and that I wouldn’t be able to walk for at least a month after I went under the knife. Maybe she wasn’t aware of the actions I could have taken to minimize the growth, or maybe my feet were just too far gone already. Either way, I didn’t make any changes. I continued to painfully teeter around in high heels with tiny toe boxes.
Now my bunion situation is really bad. I buy my shoes one size up and a lot of my older pairs have become unwearable. I’m in a lot of pain if I walk for too long or wear the wrong shoes and little massages or stretches don’t seem to be helping much anymore. I’m going to invest in some good toe spacers, try out more exercises, and contemplate when I’ll have a month where I don’t need to walk so I can potentially schedule surgery (as someone who bikes and walks everywhere, this is super-scary). In the meantime, here are my tips for getting by if you too suffer from bunions:
1. Avoid shoes that cut off near the bunion. The edges will irritate your bunions more than other shoes and cause a ton of pain.
2. Only wear heels for limited amounts of time. The more squished your toes are in the top of your shoes, the faster the bunion will grow. Heels put more pressure on the bunions, making them extremely painful, so I try to bring a pair of flats when I wear heels and switch into them as soon as possible.
3. Don’t wear patent leather! Patent shoes are the worst with bunions. The non-flexible material rubs on them as you walk. Ouch! Plus they create really horrid blisters. Try to stick to soft materials that stretch and move with your feet instead.
4. Buy shoes with wide toe boxes. Though they may not be as cute, shoes with more toe space can make a huge difference comfort-wise. I really like Keds and little booties, but you can find all kinds of styles with more room/stretchy toe areas.
5. Size up. Lately I’ve been buying my shoes one size larger, and it helps a lot to give my feet that extra space. If you find your shoes are too tight, you can also try the blow drier and sock layering trick to stretch them out!
6. Give your feet some extra TLC. I like to give my feet a good Epsom salt soak after a long day of walking. Massages, salt soaks, and minty soothing creams can really help with foot pain! I especially love Lush’s Volcano Foot Mask and Fair Trade Foot Lotion with Arnica.
Looking for some bunion-friendly shoes? Here are my picks: