Have you experienced swelling, redness, or soreness around your big toe joint that is accompanied with intermittent pain? Have you observed a bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe or noticed limited mobility in your big toe? If you answered yes, the Mayo Clinic lists these as signs and symptoms of a bunion, and you should consider speaking to your medical doctor about diagnosis and treatment options since the National Library of Medicine states that bunions can worsen over time.
What is a bunion?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a bunion is:
a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. It occurs when some of the bones in the front part of your foot move out of place. This causes the tip of your big toe to get pulled toward the smaller toes and forces the joint at the base of your big toe to stick out.
What might a bunion look like?
The medical term for a bunion is hallux valgus, and the National Library of Medicine provides an image that illustrates an example of a healthy foot alongside a foot with a bunion:
What causes a bunion?
In adults, the causes leading to bunions are not completely understood, but scientists’ speculate that it relates to lifestyle and some believe its genetics (developing bunions in childhood involves other hypotheses about bunion causes) (Bunion, Medline Plus). Adult risk factors are linked to foot shape, structure of the foot, foot mechanics, inflammatory arthritis, and other medical conditions that impact bone development (Bunion, Medline Plus). As for lifestyle, areas of concern are tight-fitting shoes, high heels, and a narrow toe box in shoes; however, none of these are scientifically proven to cause bunions. Rather, shoes that place a burden on the natural structure and mechanics of the foot can influence the likelihood, timing, and predisposition that cause bunions to develop (Bunion, Medline Plus).
What strategies can help prevent or improve your bunion?
While it may seem unlikely that there are action steps available to influence a genetic predisposition towards having bunions, it is possible to adopt lifestyle changes to help your foot stay healthy. Consider the following suggestions:
- Opt for shoes that support your particular foot’s design. Barefoot minimalist shoes like LJ’s sandals allow your toes to spread out instead of being cramped inside a shoe;
- Choose shoes that encourage your foot to retain its natural gait like LJ’s barefoot shoes;
- Shop with shoe companies that encourage an easy return process. Online shopping has evolved as a way to expand style options, reduce time and transportation costs, and budget finances by comparing multiple stores which often have discounts and codes to help you save. While these are robust benefits, the downside can be the return process especially when buying shoes since there is a likelihood of needing an exchange or return since you cannot try on the shoes. Avoid allowing shipping return fees to influence your decision to keep a poor-fitting shoe, and plan in advance that you should consider a company that wants to ensure you are fully satisfied with your purchase.
- Pay attention to your foot signaling pain and assess whether your shoe is beyond its life. One runner’s trick to embrace is to write the date the shoe was first worn to see how many months it has been used. For athletic shoes, a general rule is no more than 3-6 months, but that changes depending on how often the shoe is worn in addition to the type of activities. For example, a runner with high mileage will likely need to buy shoes more frequently than an occasional casual walker (Bumgardner, Very Well Fit).
- Try toe separator socks to soothe your feet. If you are familiar with pedicures, toe separator socks resemble the padding your foot is inserted in to ensure nail polish doesn’t get spread to other toes. According to podiatrist Emily Splichal toe separator socks “help to realign toes to their rightful position while providing a gentle stretch. Dr. Splichal finds that they’re a great way to stretch the small muscles around the toes as well as the toes themselves. She recommends them to all of her patients” (Sloan, Well + Good).
- Reduce or eliminate wearing high heels. LJ’s offers footwear for both work and casual occasions meaning that you don’t have to succumb to uncomfortable heels at work that have narrow toe boxes which can increase the likelihood of foot pain, ankle sprains, and foot deformities (Olsson, Banner Health). In fact, a research team at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital (RNOH) used a new 3D scanner to evaluate a woman’s altered foot mechanics while wearing high heels. The researchers findings indicate:
Women who regularly wear high heels suffer from foot and ankle problems because body weight is transferred to the ball of the foot, which adds pressure to sesamoids. These are the small “pea-sized” bones under the big toe. They add that wearing high heels regularly can also squash the toes, which forces the foot into an unnatural shape. This can cause severe pain and long-term damage, such as ‘clawing of the toes’ – when the toes contract at the middle and end joints (Whiteman, Medical News Today).
Click here to view the full video narrated by Dr. Andy Goldberg, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, who explains foot mechanics while in heels.
While prior generations of women had societal mores dictating their dress, we can be fortunate that time and technology has altered the options for footwear. Be kind to your body and make sure to choose footwear that is designed to support your body’s needs.