Help! How do I keep my bunions from getting worse?
October 1, 2016 11:48 PM   Subscribe

i'm in my late 20s, and have had bunions my whole life, but just realized that's what they were & not just how my feet are shaped. I work on set (and so on my feet) for 14+ hours a day, often more, pushing heavy carts around and walking up and down hills. My feet hurt always, but especially at the end of the day and especially especially at the end of the week.

Currently I try to soak them in hot water when I can & elevate them when I sleep.

Assuming I can't afford surgery or even a podiatrist appointment what are my options? Google is telling me that it's either surgery or nothing. Probably that's true. But if you guys have any other tips I (and my feet) would thank you.
posted by thebrokenmuse to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There are bunion splints. You can wear them during the day. They keep your toe from moving in further.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:10 AM on October 2, 2016

Stick with shoes with wide toe boxes, nothing pointy. And wear shoes with good arch support. Pointy toed high heels are also a bad idea.
posted by cecic at 1:29 AM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I hate to say it, but there isn't a cheap option here. If you have really had them 'forever' then these aren't bunions caused by footwear, but likely part of an underlying condition - I empathise because I was born with something that caused bunions & a couple of other oddities to my feet. Although things like splints and bunion pads might alleviate pain - and are therefore worth trying - you're not going to correct the shape of your foot without surgery. And, personally, having tried splints and pads, I found them incredibly uncomfortable: I wore these and corrective insoles as a child to help my feet grow into a better shape (I suspect that option's off the table for you), and although they definitely worked, it was pain-for-gain, so I suspect that they might not actually help you in your current situation, sorry.

This probably seems obvious but: good shoes. Never, ever, ever buy a pair of shoes that feel tight across the wider part of your foot. They will not 'relax in'.

Perhaps less obvious: experiment with shoes (though I realise this might be more expensive than the podiatrist...). So, for example
1. I found that the balance shoes - MBTs, fit-flops, whatever knock off brands you have locally - were insanely comfortable & instinctive to walk in. They're not appropriate for your workplace because they do slightly unbalance you, but they might ease things in leisure time.
2... or you might need shoes with more intense ankle support - I found this important before my feet had reshaped slightly (I had no arches, and bad balance), as they stopped rolling movements and uneven weight. Would work boots - even safety work boots or hiking boots be OK?
3... or you might find that heavy shoes make every thing worse, and what you actually need is the most minimal, light footwear you can find.
4. It's probably worth getting fitted for running shoes, somewhere that does gait analysis and so on; you may find that you roll, or you lay your weight in a slightly unusual way, and there are more likely to be sports shoes that deal with this than off-the-shelf fashion shoes.

I never had the corrective surgery. They insoles seemed to fix the immediate problems (I suddenly gained a sense of balance aged about 6 or 7 having been unable to roller skate etc before!) and I opted to just live with having slightly ugly, wide feet. I dunno if that was the right choice in the long term - I wore a lot of very high very ridiculous shoes through my teens and twenties without making things any worse, but in my early 30s began to get toe pain from 'steep' shoes & have had to switch to more flats & low heels. Mostly though, it's been about spending a lot more time and money on shoes than other people, and being a lot more willing to accept that after 2 or 3 wears a shoe is *wrong* even if it cost me money & it feels bad to 'waste' it by giving up on a pair.

tl;dr: by all means give splints & pads a try but remember that corrective stuff is likely to hurt rather than help in the short-term - experiment with different shoe and boot types - save for that podiatrist (or even an orthopaedic surgery) appointment.
posted by AFII at 1:45 AM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've had a similar issue, thankfully on one foot only, for about 15 years. It hasn't gotten any worse, really, in that time and doesn't cause me much pain - assuming I do the following:

Avoid shoes that put pressure on the toe or the joint- so I have given up on shoes with heels, shoes that are at all pointy at the toe (this made a big difference), and I have quite wide feet anyway, but wide fit shoes also help.

A soft silicone 'toe spreader' between my big toe and 2nd toe that I wear every day. If I forget or lose it, I'm ok for a day or so and then my foot starts to get really sore. I get these from Boots (in the UK) for a few pounds, and replace every now and again.

If I wear sandals (and forgo the toe spreader) Birkenstocks are good, I can wear those for days without pain coming back. When commuting to work (walking and standing up to 2 hours each way) I wear well fitting Asics trainers and I think those have helped a lot rather than wearing 'office' type shoes except when I absolutely have to.

Things that didn't work - a hard plastic splint thing that fits on the foot and you tighten to pull the big toe into position. You can't walk or anything with it on, I tried wearing it while being a couch potato, or in bed. It was a bit uncomfortable and I didn't find it helped.

Hope this helps - I've lost all interest in buying shoes as it is difficult, frustrating and annoying so probably saved me some cash over the years.
posted by ElasticParrot at 2:41 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I pretty much only wear shoes made of suede or very soft leather (like Nubuck leather) these days, and it has helped me a lot. Ecco is my go-to brand. I also pay very close attention to where the shoe hits; if the outer edge of the shoe top cuts across the top of my bunion (as most high heels do), it causes a lot of pain. Some sneakers have an inner seam in that area that can also be very irritating, so I watch out for that. And wearing a toe separator in the evenings really helps.
posted by neushoorn at 3:34 AM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Minimal shoes have, over a number of years, helped correct my bunions somewhat. They still look pretty messed up, but my toes spread better and I have much less pain. I now have to wear boots for work, and while they're not minimal, the wide toe box also works for me.
posted by hollyholly at 5:20 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have to invest in good shoes- I wear Danskos or Mephisto for teaching, you need to find the equivalent- ask some older coworkers/long term workers in your field perhaps.
posted by bquarters at 6:32 AM on October 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seconding Hollyholly - I had horrible bunions, constant pain. They basically healed when I started wearing minimalist shoes/walking barefoot a lot. 5 years in, the toes have spread out - my feet are wider. One foot looks normal now, the other has a slight bunion still. Pain is gone. I wear xero sandals or soft star shoes. (Interesting: my feet have also become 1 size shorter! This means conventional shoes had been deforming my feet to be longer and wonder that hurt!).
posted by The Toad at 7:32 AM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yoga and PT exercises truly can help if you do them regularly. Check out:
Bye Bye Bunions
Fix Flat Feet

I really recommend trying this route first, even though it's a bit under the radar to conventional thinking. I've had bunions since my early twenties and every podiatrist I saw just wanted to sell me a new type of expensive inserts. So glad I got into yoga or I never would have realized there are things you can do.

Also heartily agree with posters above that good shoes are a key investment too. Stick to low-heeled, well made shoes with a wide toebox (Clarks, Born, etc)
posted by veery at 8:05 AM on October 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have you measured your feet, including the width?

For me, buying shoes used to be terrible -- "let's band-aid the feet down and prepare for 6 weeks of blisters" terrible. Then I actually measured my feet (you can trace them on a sheet of paper), and realized that they were actually wide-wide (across the bunions) and significantly shorter than the shoes I'd been buying. Now, when I buy shoes the right length and width, they usually fit just fine -- even when it's not the "comfort" kind.

But yeah.. If you google something like "natural foot shape", you'll realize that this probably wasn't how your feet were shaped originally... but what wearing shoes has made them into.
posted by yonglin at 8:43 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put little silicone spacers between your big and second toes. Experiment with trimmed-down wine corks or balls of tape to figure out what size feels good if you can't afford to buy a few different sizes- I find many brands are too small to create the space I need.
Wear the spacers when trying on shoes (tape them in place with sport tape if they slide too much).
Do not wear shoes that mush your toe in. Ever.
Birkenstocks are good when the weather and tasks permit.
Wear bunion splints to bed. I love the kind I linked; another friend hates them- something to experiment with.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:42 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

(this might be out of place here but I really think it's important to distinguish between being born with a disability and developing a deformity due to poor footwear. It is super upsetting when people comment on my feet assuming it must be because of bad shoes, effectively blaming me for my own disability and insisting that exercise X or Y or prorpietary product X or Y will somehow fix a complex underlying bone misalignment. The OP said she's in her late 20s and has had them her whole life.)
posted by AFII at 11:52 PM on October 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do your feet bend at the big toe? I have bunions too, but mine are on the top of my toe and formed because my toe isn't bending properly anymore. That's hallux rigidus. If you have this, you might find relief from shoes with a stiff sole or using carbon fiber inserts in your shoes. You can also do manipulations of the big toe joint, which can bring some relief.
posted by purple_bird at 3:37 PM on October 3, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Wearing no shoes & being on my feet less keeps the pain away but unfortunately that's not an option for me. I have to wear work boots, protective sneakers or hiking boots to work for safety reasons. Anyone have any good recs for shoes in these categories with a wide toe box?

(Also, to address other questions/comments, my feet really have been like this forever. My family has similar feet. My little toes curve inward a little bit too, but luckily don't hurt yet. And I don't care at all about how they look, just hoping to find a solution to very long, very painful days at work.)
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:59 PM on October 5, 2016

In response to your followup, everything Keen makes is great (they are really committed to providing a wide toxbox). Also, men's shoes are great for work boots/hiking boots when the women's sizes are too narrow.
posted by veery at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2016

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