Ask Dr. K

May 9, 2012

Wearing the right shoes can prevent bunions

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a bunion on my left foot and it hurts! What can I do?

DEAR READER: With a bunion, your big toe turns inward, bending toward, or even under, the other toes. Since your feet probably are inside shoes and not easily visible, I'll try to explain what happens to your big toe by asking you to look at your hand. Look at your thumb. Feel the joint where the thumb starts sticking out from the hand. Unless you have arthritis, the bone in your hand and the first bone in your thumb are lined up pretty straight.

If your thumb developed a bunion, the bone in your hand would be pointing outward and the bones in the thumb would be pointing inward.

Bunions most often result from shoes that squeeze the toes into pointy or narrow toe boxes. This forces the toes to fold over one another to fit in. Over time, a bunion develops. At first, it's just a little ugly, and it can make it hard to get into shoes. It may not even hurt.

If and when it does begin to hurt, there are several things you can do to ease your discomfort. You can pad the bump with felt or moleskin. Or try a shoe stretcher to stretch the front of your shoe, relieving pressure on the bunion part of your foot. Shoe inserts called orthoses can redistribute your weight so the bunion doesn't constantly rub against your shoe. Foot doctors called podiatrists can fit you with these inserts.

For pain, try NSAID pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Hot and cold compresses may also help.

If you continue to experience significant pain, you may need to consider surgery. Surgery will partially or completely restore your toe to its normal position. The specific procedure will depend on the severity of your condition.

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