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How to Cope with Bunion Pain

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Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brannan Smoot offers his advice for how to cope with bunion pain. 

By Sabrina LeBoeuf

Bunion Pain - High Heels

Hiding inside most every pair of high-heeled shoes is a woman’s aching feet. However, there’s a stark difference between the pain of beauty and the pain of a medical problem, such as a bunion. Knowing how to distinguish the two and knowing when to seek help from a doctor can be crucial to the future of your feet and your shoe collection. 

Dr. Brannan Smoot is an orthopedic surgeon and a member of the faculty at Dell Medical School, and one of his many areas of expertise involves foot care and bunions. He estimates that during the course of his 20-year practice, he has performed more than 1,000 bunionectomies. While women do have their fair share of bunions, he has helped lots of patients, not just women. 

“Men get bunions too. More women than men get bunions, and that probably has to do with a shoewear issue,” Smoot says. “I think women have trouble with bunions because of the shoes they’re expected to wear. A man can get by with a blocky foot shoe and nobody says anything about it.” 

When it comes to wearing high heels, Katie Duncan, a content marketing writer, only wears them when she’s going out with friends. Even then, she’s narrowed her shoe choices down to two pairs of wedges, all for the sake of avoiding foot pain. 

“I’ve seen the spectrum. I’ve operated on 60-year-olds. I’ve operated on 17-year-olds for bunions. There’s not a strong predilection for age.” 

Dr. Brannan Smoot

“I think a lot of women’s shoes [don’t] look comfortable. They aren’t,” Duncan says. 

Although changing the shoes you wear can help avoid foot pain and bunions, there are other ways in which bunions can form. Other causes of bunions include genetic predisposition and certain medical conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, while the age range for getting bunions typically spans from 30 to 40, bunions can form at any age. 

“I’ve seen the spectrum. I’ve operated on 60-year-olds. I’ve operated on 17-year-olds for bunions,” Smoot says. “There’s not a strong predilection for age.” 

Since bunions can be inevitable for some people, there are various ways to help cope with the pain. Some examples include padding the bunion or changing the type of shoes you wear. This includes widening the forefront of the shoe, switching to a stretchy material or lowering the heel. On the other hand, there are bunion braces on the market that Smoot advises against because they don’t fix the problem in the long term. 

In some cases, these remedies are not enough. At that point, Smoot recommends considering surgery, particularly when the pain affects everyday life. 

“With regards to surgery, I tell my patients that you should avoid bunionectomy surgery until you have symptoms that are altering your lifestyle,” Smoot says. “You can define that how you like, but for most people, it’s, ‘I can’t exercise,’ or, ‘I can’t stand on my feet all day without pain because of this bunion deformity.’ For some folks, it’s just, ‘I can’t wear high-heeled shoes, and I need to be able to do that for work.’ ” 

When it comes to surgery, most insurance covers the cost of the procedure. Be that as it may, there are still other factors to consider when it comes to bunionectomies. Surgery risks include infection, nerve damage, poor healing of the bone and persistent swelling. 

More importantly, the post-operation regimen is critical to ensuring the deformity does not return. There are limited weight bearings and foot wrappings patients must observe to heal the foot properly. On the bright side, if all the doctor’s orders are heeded, you’ll be able to wear high heels again after about four months. 

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