Healthbeat Report: The Bunion Blues

October 29, 2009 8:31:35 PM PDT
The transition to fall can be painful because we start sliding our feet back into winter footwear. For women, in particular, that means extra pressure on a common foot problem.

Bunions obviously aren't a matter of life or death but they can be a source of serious pain.

"I stand 10 to 12 hours, walking and moving and greeting and talking," said Jewel Ritchie.

Jewel Ritchie loves being a hotel manager but her feet are less enthusiastic and she was often in constant pain.

"Unbearable, unbearable. I would stand up and fall down," said Jewel.

Back in her 20s, Jewel noticed bony bumps at the base of her big toes. It wasn't until this year. she got the diagnosis of bunions.

"It's like a dirty little secret. It's like having a third eye," said Jewel.

Podiatrists such as Bela Pandit say this time of year there are plenty of younger women who have pain but don't realize what's causing it.

"Everybody wants to wear the high heeled boots and they start to notice it a lot more. Some people think they are growing something there but it's actually their natural bone just dislocated out of joint," said Pandit.

Bunions begin with the leaning of the big toe. That gradually changes the angle of other bones in the foot and that's when you start to notice the bump and pain.

According to several doctors, bunions are aggravated but not caused by shoes.

Those pointy high heels can play a role by crowding the toes making the pain more intense and the deformity worse over time.

A bunion is usually the result of inherited foot problems that put too much stress on the front of the foot. And, yes, they are more common in women.

"It's never going to go away. You can try to squeeze it, move it but its going to be there when you take off everything. Either you surgically fix it or you conservatively treat it," said Pandit.

Shoes with more room in the front will help and there are pads and gels and medications to also ease the pressure and pain.

Trying conservative treatments first is almost always recommended.

Ryan Wilson, 30, uses a custom made shoe insert to reposition her foot so pressure is off her bunions.

"It's made a huge difference and I haven't seen it growing any bigger and the pain is virtually gone," said Wilson.

For some patients, surgery is inevitable. But doctors say watch out for procedures that promise a quick fix.

"Beware that sometimes having a very convenient operation isn't always the one that has the greatest longevity," said Dr. Brian Toolan.

University of Chicago orthopedic surgeon Brian Toolan says surgery makes sense when other treatments don't work.

"It's not a preventative surgery. You do it because you have the right reasons. You are having enough problems with the daily function of your foot. That's the best reason to have surgery," said Dr. Toolan.

For Jewel, surgery was the right choice. A screw in her left foot now keeps the joint in line and she says the pain-free difference is amazing. And she didn't have to stop wearing heels.

"I'm definitely not going to give it up. I absolutely love my shoes," said Jewel. There are a variety of outpatient surgical procedures, depending on the patient's needs. And as for recovery, that can take up to eight weeks or longer.

American Podiatric Medical Association
Illinois Podiatric Medical Association
www.apma.org or www.ipma.net.

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
www.acfas.org

Bela Pandit, DPM
www.panditfootandankle.com 3830 W. 95th Street | Suite 104 | Evergreen Park, IL 60805 | (708) 423-3668

Brian Toolan, MD
University of Chicago Medical Center
5841 S. Maryland Ave.
Chicago, Il.
60637
773-702-6984
www.orthochicago.org


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