As we age, our feet—like our waistlines—mature.
Feet lengthen with normal use. When tired, they expand, and that expansion becomes permanent over time. It’s quite common to increase one to two shoe sizes in a 10-year period.
Unfortunately, many women fail to adjust for age when they buy shoes. Fashion is placed above fit, and high heels seem to be timeless. The result? Bunions, a common foot deformity that can cause serious and painful damage to the foot.
Bunions form when the fluid sac at the base of the big toe joint, called a bursa, becomes inflamed. Normally, the fluid in this sac is the consistency of egg white. Its job is to lubricate the friction points between the bones, tendons and skin. When a bursa becomes inflamed, however, the fluid hardens and is no longer able to move freely around the joint. Eventually, the fluid forms a jelly-like mass known as a bunion.
Bunions aren’t always painful, but when left untreated they’re likely to get worse. Shoes may become increasingly uncomfortable. Standing, walking and balance may be affected. In severe cases, untreated bunions can cause bony spurs and osteoarthritis (arthritis marked by the deterioration of bone).
There’s some evidence that heredity plays a role in the formation of bunions. People with certain foot shapes, including a long big toe, are more likely than others to develop bunions. Regardless of genetic predisposition, however, most doctors agree that bunions are a direct result of poorly fitted shoes. High heels are particularly to blame because they cause the foot to slide forward in the shoe and they place too much pressure on the big-toe joint. Heels higher than an inch and a half are the worst offenders.
As a result of the high-heel connection, the majority of patients who undergo corrective toe surgery are female.
Shoes that provide plenty of room for your toes are usually the best way to lessen the discomfort of bunions. Felt toe pads, available at drug stores and supermarkets, also may help.
Corns or calluses sometimes develop on bunions. This thickening of the skin is caused by constant rubbing against shoes that don’t allow room for the bunion. Wearing roomy, soft leather shoes should help eliminate corns or calluses. If not, your healthcare provider may recommend removal.
For advanced bunions, traditional surgery may be needed. Often this can be done on an outpatient basis. The type of surgery performed will depend on the age and severity of the bunion.
The bottom line: If you suspect you have a bunion, or if you suffer from foot pain, see your healthcare provider before the problem gets worse.