Ask around and you'll find many women have a love-hate relationship with high heels. They like how they look but don't always like how their feet feel after wearing them. Yet when women buy shoes, they often choose fashion over comfort. High heels may help you look taller, dressed up, and trendy, but wearing high heels or shoes that don't fit properly can contribute to foot pain and foot problems especially if you already have foot problems or have a genetic tendency toward them.
Are high heels to blame for foot problems?
"Wearing ill-fitting shoes tends to make foot problems worse but it doesn't cause foot problems," says Intermountain Riverton Hospital podiatrist J.J. Reagan, DPM. "High heels often have a narrow toe box that puts pressure on the toe and pushes the toe over to the side. But flat shoes can be bad, too, because they're narrow and don't provide enough arch support."
What are bunions?
A bunion is a painful bony bump that develops on the inside of the foot at the big toe joint.
Bunions are progressive, develop slowly, and get worse over time.
"A bunion forms when the bones that make up the metatarsophalangeal joint move out of alignment. Pressure on the big toe joint causes the big toe to lean toward the second toe. Over time, the normal structure of the bone changes, which results in the bunion bump," says Dr. Reagan.
Bunions usually occur on the outside of the big toe joint but can also form on the outside of the pinky toe, which is called a Tailor's bunion or bunionette.
How common are bunions?
About 23 percent of adults aged 18-65 have bunions. And 35.7 percent of people over 65 have bunions. They're twice as common in women as in men.
Many celebrities and models have bunions. If you zoom in on the red-carpet shots of celebrities like Amal Clooney, Amy Adams, Naomi Campbell, or Paris Hilton you'll see a few bunions.
Risk factors for bunions
- More common in women, mostly due to shoe choices
- Wearing poorly fitting shoes, especially those with a narrow, pointed toe box
- Heredity - people with flat feet or other unique foot shapes or structure are more likely to develop bunions
- Having an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or a neuromuscular condition like multiple sclerosis
Are bunions hereditary?
Bunions themselves aren't inherited - but certain foot types make a person prone to developing a bunion.
How to treat foot pain caused by bunions
"In most cases, bunion pain is relieved by wearing wider shoes with adequate toe room and using other simple treatments to reduce pressure on the big toe," says Dr. Reagan. One of the latest trends in footwear are zero-drop shoes that don't have a raised heel and have a wider toe box. There are zero-drop athletic shoes and everyday shoes.
"Zero drop shoes are good for your feet because shoes with a raised heel can weaken and shorten your achilles tendon. Zero drop shoes keep your feet in a more natural position. But they do take some time to get used to wearing," adds Dr. Reagan.
6 Ways to Treat Bunions:
- Wear shoes with a wide toe box that don't compress the toes.
- Use padding. Wear "bunion-shield" pads to help cushion the painful area over the bunion. You can buy them over the counter at a pharmacy; you may need to try different types and sizes.
- Orthotics and other devices. Over-the-counter or custom-made shoe inserts (orthotics), toe spacers, or toe-straightener devices may help with pain or take the pressure off, but they don't fix the problem.
- Icing. Applying ice several times a day for 20 minutes will help reduce swelling. But don't apply ice directly on your skin.
- Medications may help with pain. Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. When a bunion is really inflamed, cortisone steroid injections can provide temporary relief.
- Bunion surgery. If nonsurgical treatments fail to relieve bunion pain - and when the pain interferes with daily activities, physical activities or your way of life - surgery may help. The only way to correct bunions is with surgery. Surgery shouldn't be done on bunions just for cosmetic reasons.
Candidates for bunion surgery typically have one or more of these symptoms
- Significant foot pain that limits their everyday activities, including walking and wearing reasonable shoes. They may find it hard to walk more than a few blocks without significant pain.
- Chronic big toe inflammation and swelling that doesn't improve with rest or medications.
- Toe deformity - a drifting in of the big toe toward the smaller toes, creating the potential for the toes to cross over each other.
- Toe stiffness - the inability to bend and straighten the big toe.