Have you ever had a bunion, or do you have one now? If you’re like many of my patients and your answer is yes, you’re not alone. According to the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, over 64 million people in the U.S. have bunions. Women are more likely to develop them than men, mainly due to wearing tight shoes (especially high heels) that push the foot bones into an unnatural shape over time.
In severe cases, surgery (bunionectomy) may be needed to correct the problem. Yet, as unpleasant as bunions are, there are several things you can do to help prevent them, or at least to keep them from getting worse once you have them.
What exactly is a bunion?
A bunion is a bony, usually painful bump that sticks out of the joint that connects your big toe to your foot. Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes bunions but they think they could be due to arthritis, genetics, weak or poor foot structure, one leg being longer than the other, or over-pronation of the foot which causes a person’s body weight to shift and put pressure on the big toe joint, causing the bone to move outward.
7 best ways to avoid developing bunions
While some bunions have no symptoms, many become red, swollen and painful — in some cases, so painful that it’s hard to wear a shoe or to walk. The best way to manage bunions is to prevent them from forming in the first place, if possible. To that end, I find these tips from Healthline to be very helpful.
Wear proper shoes
Probably the most important thing you can do to help prevent bunions is to wear the correct footwear. The best shoes are a little loose on your foot, have a wide toe box, good arch support, and heels that are less than 1-2 inches. Shoes that tie are better than slip-ons because the laces prevent your foot from moving forward every time you step, which puts pressure on your big toe joint.
Shoes should be comfortable as soon as you buy them
You shouldn’t have to break shoes in before they are comfortable. In the store, walk around in them quite a bit and make sure they fit well before you buy them. In properly fitting shoes, your toes should not touch the front of the shoe and you should be able to wiggle them comfortably.
If you like high heels, it’s okay to wear them occasionally but you shouldn’t wear them every day
If it’s height you’re after, blocky heels, wedges and platform shoes are better than stilettos since they distribute your weight more evenly across your foot and are less likely to push you onto the balls of your feet.
Shop for shoes in the evening
Nighttime is the best time to look for shoes. Your feet normally swell during the day and therefore are largest in the evening. If you buy shoes early in the day, they may be tight on your feet in the evenings.
Inserts make sure your foot has the right support and is aligned properly in your shoes
If your foot isn’t properly aligned or you have flat feet (fallen arches), you should wear over-the-counter or prescription orthotics in your shoes. These ensure that your foot is aligned correctly and well-supported. Inserts and orthotics also help distribute your weight more evenly on your foot. In addition, there are splints you can buy that keep your big toe straight but still allow you to walk.
Stay at a healthy weight
The weight of your body puts pressure on your feet every time you take a step. If you are overweight, your foot and big toe joint are under more pressure than they should be. The more pressure the toe joint is under, the higher the chance of it developing a bunion or becoming inflamed and sore.
7. Take care of your feet
When your feet are tired and aching, soak them in warm water with Epsom salt. Coat them with moisturizing lotion so they don’t get too dry, and massage them often. At the end of a long day, prop them up and rest them. It really is true: the better care you take of your feet, the better care they will take of you.
You may be at increased risk of getting bunions if:
- bunions run in your family
- your foot isn’t properly aligned so that the inside of your arch supports most of your weight
- you have fallen arches (flat feet)
- you have an inflammatory condition, like rheumatoid arthritis
- you have a job where you are on your feet a lot
Treatment for bunions
You cannot get rid of bunions without surgery, but you can minimize the pain and soreness they cause and help prevent them from getting worse by taking these steps:
- Change your footwear so your toes and feet have plenty of room and the heels are not higher than 2 inches
- Add shoe padding to relieve inflammation and reduce friction
- Wear a nighttime splint to help realign the joint
- Get a cortisone injection to reduce joint inflammation
- Get custom-fitted orthotics to reposition the foot and help stabilize the joint
- Do special exercises for mobility and flexibility
- Have bunion surgery (bunionectomy) to remove the bunion and realign the toe
Read our podiatry blogs
We’ve written several informative blogs about the diagnosis and treatment of podiatric conditions of the foot and ankle, which you can read here.
Worried about your bunions? Come see me.
If you have bunions or are concerned that you may be developing them, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see me, a Westchester Health podiatrist. I will evaluate your condition, possibly order x-rays, discuss your options, and together with you, determine the best steps to take to prevent future bunions or to manage or remove the ones you have. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By John B. Viscovich, DPM, MBA, FACFAS, a Podiatrist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners