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Bunion care: My proactive approach to care, treatment, and reversal

I remember the first time I heard my feet described as having bunions. I was running barefoot for a photo shoot, and the photographer gasped when he saw my feet: “Whoa, you’ve got huge bunions!” Not knowing how to respond, exactly, I just nodded. I suppose, in retrospect, he was shocked that someone who runs a lot had such a serious foot problem (or, he was a jerk). That was five years ago, and in the spirit of full-disclosure, I hadn’t thought much about having bunions since then.

Sure, my feet aren’t what I’d describe as pretty – but most ultrarunners don’t have pretty feet. At any one time, I have at least two black toenails, and the toenails on my Greek foot shape (this means my second toe is larger than my “big” toe) are beyond malformed and no longer grow. The toenails on my big toes no longer grow, either, which makes nail care a cinch. In general, then, I paint my toes a blackish-blue, to match the toenails in various stages of disrepair, and don’t think much about them other than to save my pennies for my toenail removing surgery (yes, it’s a thing). Otherwise, I continued to wear impossibly high stiletto heels and paid no attention to the shoes I was wearing when I wasn’t running. Despite having bunions, apparently (I never had an official diagnosis), I didn’t have any related pain from the bunions except after a long day wearing high-heeled boots and from the blisters I got on the sides of my big toes when I wore running shoes with an unnatural toe box.

This changed, however, with my current training cycle. Suddenly I found myself having pain (not when I’m running, thank goodness) on the top and edge of my toe. This pain isn’t terrible, and I’m not limping (nor do I have swelling or a terribly sensitive point on my foot, which might indicate my worst nightmare, a stress fracture), but the pain has been enough to finally do some research. After spending considerable time research running injuries on the internet (translated: panicked after a run, I searched the internet to find the reason for my foot pain while I simultaneously prayed it wouldn’t be something that would restrict my training), the results kept coming back to bunions.

Huh? Bunions were, until this point, not something that I associated with a sports-related injury (and, okay, I thought of them as something that my dear grandmother might be more likely to be diagnosed with). True, bunions are genetic, but they are exacerbated by wearing the wrong footwear. And, while they can be severe and require surgery, mine aren’t and I can keep running as long as the pain doesn’t alter my stride.

That’s great news, but I also didn’t want the bunions to keep getting worse (and, eventually have to have surgery). After much internet research, I stumbled upon Dr. McClanahan in this Runner’s World post. In that post, he outlines what bunions are and provided a few tips to prevent them.  First, he recommended a toe spacer. He is the mind behind Correct Toes, a toe spacer that has excellent reviews (and, full disclosure, I ordered almost immediately and received my set in the mail on Friday). I’ve been wearing the spacers on both foot ever since. The toe spacer can help to re-align toes which, importantly, prevents the bunion from getting worse. Second, McClanahan recommends wearing shoes that don’t unnaturally compress the toes. I’d stopped wearing heels almost 8 months ago and switched to Altra running shoes about the same time (natural toe box and zero drop, two features important for natural foot alignment). The Correct Toes website also includes a list of recommended shoes. By the end of the day, I’d ordered my toe spacers and a pair of Iniji socks (so I could wear the toe spacers and keep my feet warm) and checked out the list of approved shoes.

In addition to footwear, both McClanahan and this article from Rockay provide suggested exercises for relieving bunion pain. I’ve been doing them every day and have noticed an improvement in the pain levels (even before receiving the toe spacers). My goals are to keep my bunions from getting worse, maintain my training, and prevent future surgery. By avoiding footwear that further compresses my feet and doing the above, I’m hoping I’ll be able to do just that.

Please note that I am not a medical professional. I share my experiences as evidence of what has worked for me, not to be interpreted as medical advice. 

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