My last post was about plantar fasciitis and it seemed only natural to write about bunions next – even though bunions are not natural for our feet. This post has 2 parts. Part 1 covers what bunions are, why we get them and the simplest things we can do to avoid them. Part 2 offers a more in-depth step-by-step guide on how to treat them.
What Are Bunions?
Bunions form at the base of the big toe (at the metatarsal phalangeal – MTP joint). The clinical term is Hallux Abducto Valgus which means that the big toe moves to the side (toward the pinky toe) instead of tracking straight forward. In addition, the first metatarsal (long bone below the big toe joint) tracks toward the other foot (away from the pinky). There is also often a malformation or enlargement at the base of the big toe joint which is an irritated bursa (fluid-filled sac designed to mitigate friction in the joints).
Bunions form when we use the joint the wrong way – either in how we walk or because our shoes restrict proper motion of the feet and toes. Whatever the cause, bunions are extremely painful and I have many friends who have had corrective surgery to have them removed – all women. No surprise there since women get them more than men do.
Too Many Women Get Bunions
According to a study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, 88 percent of American women wear shoes that are too small, and 55 percent of them have bunions. I read a government statistic which claimed 4.4 million Americans report having bunions per year. I had no luck finding out how much Americans spend on bunion treatment per year. But I did read that bunion surgery can cost 3-15K per foot.
Are High Heels the Cigarettes of the Future?
I just finished reading Katy Bowman’s new book “Alignment Matters” (review coming soon) which is an edited collection of her blog posts from the last five years. Katy talks a lot about feet throughout her 445-page book. I was very happy about that because I believe that foot health can lead to total body health. In the chapter “Are High Heels the Cigarettes of the Future?” she asks this compelling question:
Would a woman still choose to wear a shoe if she knew that it was causing:
1. Compression and Disk Degeneration in her spine
2. Weakening of the Pelvic Floor
3. Decrease in Bone Density
4. Severe Damage to the Nerves, Muscles and Bones in the Feet?
So bunions are one of many maladies that can result from wearing high heels. Here’s the thing. I live in New York City. I have asked many friends, colleagues and students this very question. The answer is an overwhelming NO, they would still not give up high heels if they knew this information.
I see bunions or bunions in the making all the time. New York ladies love their shoes. Myself included so I am not about to get on my high horse (or off my high heels). I too own shoes that are bunion makers, but I don’t wear them very often.
I am fascinated by the cultural statement that this choice makes and I am curious about the psychology behind it. That women are willing to sacrifice their well-being in order to be fashionable and that fashion in turn perpetuates foot pain and poor health in women. Even more so I see it as a statement about our culture – that we deal with repercussions when they arise (with drugs or surgery). Preventative care is not our strength – we are very much in a reactive health-care paradigm in which we react to extreme situations when they occur rather than taking steps to prevent them in the first place.
How to Treat Bunions
Get rid of your bunion makers and invest in bunion breakers! (tweetable?)
It is possible to reverse the formation of bunions with time, dedication and patience. However, depending on how severe they are, you may not be able to get rid of them completely. It also depends on whether or not you are willing to give up the habits that created them to begin with.
3 Things You Can Do to Treat Bunions:
1. Stop wearing high heels and/or shoes with narrow toe boxes completely and invest in zero heel shoes with wide toe boxes.
2. I knew you were going to say that, so how about this – wear those bunion makers less, wear bunion breakers more (such as Correct Toes or My-Happy Feet Alignment Socks – images below)
3. Walk with your toes pointing forward. Push off with the big toe and allow the toes to extend when you walk (part of the natural gait cycle). You can do this barefoot in your home.
So let me ask you – given what you know now – would you still choose to wear high heels? Or have you already given them up? I would love to hear what you have to say!