Bunions Beware: What I Learned, and the 411 for Your Feet

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Oooh girl. It’s not like I feel super sexy most of the time as a mom, but I definitely didn’t feel super sexy sitting in the podiatrist’s office last week, watching as he examined my bunions. After a mere minute of reviewing my x-ray, he pronounced I had two very severe bunions, likely in need of eventual surgery.

Oh yeah, if there’s anything to make you feel like you’re, ahem, walking on the geriatric edge (no offense to older readers intended!), it’s learning that my 37-year-old self is likely looking at not one, no, but TWO bunion surgeries in the not-too-distant future.

And as summer approaches and you start to break out your flip-flops, I’d like to offer a word of caution and invite you to take a step back with me (sorry, the puns just write themselves with this topic, friend!).

I first noticed my bunions years ago. Bunions, for those of you with oh-so-enviable parallel-aligned footsies, are a deformity that (in my own words) occurs when your innermost metatarsal bone in your foot pushes outward causing a boney, bumpy growth on the side of your big toe (think: where your toe meets your foot). 

Bunions, are strongly genetic (and are typically worse/more pronounced for people with flat feet and/or hyper-mobile joints, both of which I’m lucky enough to have) , but also caused primarily by too-tight or ill-fitting footwear with lack of arch support. My mom and grandma both have bunions, so yep, there’s the genetic factor. And, although I was never one for high heels, I definitely wore my fair share of flimsy flats and flip-flops. Strike two for years of sporting sucky shoes.

So what’s the fix?

Well, stepping into the podiatrist’s office (sorry, I just can’t help it!), I hoped that he would tell me I could do some physical therapy or at home strengthening and stretching exercises to realign my foot and stop my big toe from creeping WAY too close to its neighbor toe (read: my big toe squishes and overlaps my other toe ALL the time now). But, alas, that’s not what I got.

Here’s what I learned about bunions:

  1. Bunions cannot be reversed. Absolutely, 100 percent irreversible. Sadly, once the deformity is there, it’s there to stay or needs surgical intervention.
  2. Bunions are progressive. This means that not only can’t bunions reverse, they’re also guaranteed to get progressively worse. You can accommodate for them to a degree with store-bought and/or custom-made orthotics; bunion relief products such as toe separators (search Amazon and you’ll enter a wholeeeee new world here); and/or by trading in all footwear for shoes with super-strong arch support and wide-toe boxes. But again, bunions will only get worse over time, the only unknown is how quickly they will progress for you.
  3. Severe bunions will likely end up causing pain and/or other foot and lower-extremity issues. I asked the doctor what would happen if I didn’t address my bumpy feet, and he said that possibly, nothing, but in my extreme-bunion case, it was almost certain that I will start experiencing pain on the side, bottom pads, or toes of my feet. AND, what’s worse, is that left untreated, I will also likely develop other deformities in the other toes (because they’ll start overcompensating for my inability to put full weight on my big toe/inner foot) as well as ankle and knee instability/issues. For someone as active as me (I exercise at least 6 days a week, and I have three super-active offspring) I reallllllly don’t want to deal with these complications. 
  4. Bunion surgery is not super fun nor super simple. After x-rays and learning all the future risks/complications of simply accommodating for my bunions, I told the doctor I want to get surgery done sooner rather than later (the younger and healthier you are going into any surgery, the better potential for faster and easier healing; plus my husband is still working from home for the next little while and will be around to help more). There are actually dozens of different types of bunion surgeries, but if you want to optimize for the least likelihood of bunions recurring, you’re looking at a likely painful and lengthy recovery because bunion surgeries affect bone and nerves. The doc told me that, for the type of surgery he recommends ( which I confirmed with a second opinion), I am looking at a week off my feet entirely and the first 4-6 weeks in a knee-high boot. After the first two months, I can transition to shoes, but it will probably be about 3 to 4 months before I can resume the rough level of activity I had before and up to a full year for some swelling and funny sensations in my feet to subside.

Looking back, I wish I would have known more about bunions and how to keep them from getting so severe. If you have burgeoning bunions, consider keeping surgery at bay by, again, avoiding ill-fitting, too-tight shoes; and making sure to support your arches (especially if you’re flat-footed like me!). You can buy orthotics over-the-counter or have them custom-made.

My bunions are too far gone for mitigating measures, but the good news is that the surgeries will, hopefully, be a one-time deal and leave me with bump-less feet and carte-blanche permission to shop for and wear any type of shoe I want. I’m a diehard Birkenstock and Keds-wearing girl, so my reasons for surgery are not at all aesthetic. But, hey, I gotta focus on the upside, and it will be nice not to have to plug in the phrase “bunion-friendly” in future footwear searches.

For more information, visit The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons at https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/bunions/. 

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After more than a decade in the Windy City--and a two-year stay in Dallas, TX-- Rachel Bronson is thrilled to be back in her native city to raise her three kids along with her best friend and husband of 11 years, Dan. Life with twin seven-year-old girls and a crazy three-year-old little man is always busy, but Rachel, a former journalist and middle school English teacher, loves to write and is passionate about empowering and helping fellow mamas embrace real and raw motherhood. A longtime anxiety warrior, Rachel is also passionate about sharing her struggles and how she fights anxiety and perfectionism with heavy doses of personal development, mindset work, and lots of sweating to home workouts! When she’s not writing, working out, or momming, Rachel can likely be found meal prepping, baking, reading, listening to another podcast, or watching the next episode of a binge-worthy Netflix show with her husband.

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