In her own words: living with bunions
As told to Karen Schroeder Kassel, MS, RD, MEd
Jenna, a 27-year-old editor and dietitian, has had bunions on both of her feet since she was a child. She's had surgery to decrease some of the pain, but still must choose footwear carefully and wear orthotics regularly. Despite the pain, she stays physically active with walking, spinning, and yoga.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I've had bunions since I was a kid. I always had extremely wide, flat, misshapen feet with a large bony protrusion on the inside below the big toe. Squeezing my feet into stylish shoes was not an option for me. It hurt too much and wasn't worth it to me. My main symptoms were pain and redness around the bunion itself.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
It's hard for me to remember the diagnosis of bunions because it happened when I was so young. It was probably done by my pediatrician. My mother and her brother both have bunions, as does my sister, so it wasn't a great shock. However, I have the worst case in my family.
How was your bunion treated?
Before surgery was an option, I simply managed with proper footwear–wide shoes and the like. A podiatrist told me recently that I should have been wearing orthotics in my shoes since I was a kid, but the ones given to me were much too large and bulky, even for my sensible shoes. An earlier podiatrist had even given me some sort of brace to wear that is supposed to realign your big toes by preventing the tendency for them to point inward. These, unfortunately, were useless, which is fine because I didn't wear them anyway (too uncomfortable and unrealistic).
Eventually, when the bunion on my right foot got so bad that the skin was beginning to break, I opted for surgery. I had to go in for several consultations, x-rays, and examinations so that they could determine the extent of surgery needed. X-rays typically focus on the angle between the 1st and 2nd metatarsal bones. My bunion was large and required a more extreme form of surgery where they removed 2 wedges of bone, with the intention of realigning the big toe and metatarsal bones. The result was not a "normal" foot, but rather a smaller bunion. I have much less pain in the right foot than in the left. That was 5 years ago.
The left bunion has become more troublesome and I've considered having surgery on it. A podiatrist advised me that by keeping my feet in the proper position using orthotics, I could actually postpone or avoid completely the need for the second operation.
Did you have to make any lifestyle changes in response to your bunions?
Basically I have to wear sensible shoes–shoes that are wide enough to accommodate my bunion and provide structure and support. I'm also committed to wearing my orthotics, especially during exercise (although sandal season doesn't much allow for that!)
What advice would you give to anyone living with a bunion?
Anyone with a bunion should know that although it is a genetic condition, they can affect the progression of the problem. Wearing proper footwear, getting fitted for orthotics, and seeing a podiatrist regularly can really make a difference.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
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