Tips for Preventing a Bunion

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: We’re all destined to become our mothers.

Okay, okay, not literally true, although there’s plenty of contemporary neuroscience out there backing up the idea that childhood relationships are extremely formative and our brains like to work along familiar patterns. Which is another way of saying it’s not terribly surprising that as you get older you might, on occasion, say something you never thought you’d say and hear it in your mother’s voice.

Now, are our feet all destined to become our mothers’ feet? I am afraid the answer is yes.

Bunion on Foot

Unfortunately, the research indicates that foot deformities like bunions are very apt to run in families. Or to be more accurate, you inherit the mechanics that will eventually produce bunions and not the actual deformity. That is why the vast majority of foot problems show in the 3rd, 4th or 5th decade of life. It is really your grandparent’s feet that may be the best predictor of what your feet will look like in the “golden years.”

So what helps in preventing a bunion? For starters, while bunion formation includes a genetic component, there are plenty of environmental conditions that may trigger, exacerbate, accelerate, or otherwise facilitate the transformation. The big one is footwear, and it’s a main reason why we often think of bunions as a problem mostly for women (although men can get them too).  

There is an eternal debate between fashion and function that seems to change with age. Younger people want to look good and will follow the most recent trends and fashion. The foot is an amazing structure and will put up with abuse for several decades much like a parent with a teenager—there is a limit to what abusive behavior the parent will tolerate before they blow up.

When a painful bunion develops there are 1 of 2 choices that will provide comfort. A) Change the foot or B) Change the environment around the foot (the shoe). It may take a long time for the bunion to develop but once it provides symptoms it will move like a snow ball rolling down a mountain.

Many women’s shoe styles are murder on your feet. High heels, narrow toe boxes push toes together like a trash compactor and place enormous (and enormously uncomfortable) pressure at the front of the feet. The entire foot is designed to bear weight but with high heel shoes the majority of the force is moved to the forefoot. Flimsy flats, ballet slippers, "cute shoes" and flip flops do nothing for the mechanics (rolling in of the foot). The alternative would be comfortable shoes that fit you well and provide the support and cushioning you need.

At your next family reunion, take note of parent’s, grandparent’s, aunt’s and uncle’s feet. If there is a bunion on your family crest then you are predisposed to the condition. A custom orthotic, tailored to your unique foot shape, can accommodate these flaws and keep the pressure off sensitive areas, potentially preventing a bunion from forming—or at least slowing its progression.

For the very young members of the family (1-10 years old), the bone structure is adaptable and permanent changes can occur if the foot is controlled in a correct position with an orthotic. Given enough time for bone to change position, we can see the same correction that a surgery would produce without making a single incision.

Unfortunately, even these sensible recommendations may not, in the end, be able to keep you from inheriting your mother’s feet. If and when that happens we can discuss what treatment options are best suited for your needs and lifestyle. To schedule an appointment, please call the office of Jeffrie C. Leibovitz, D.P.M. in Indianapolis at (317) 545-0505.

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