As women enter their midlife years, their risk of developing a bunion (a bump at the base of the big toe) and a related condition called hammertoe (where the smaller toes are bent like claws) increases.
Surgery is often recommended, but 25 percent of women who have the surgery are unhappy with the results.
Before we get to this let's make sure the way your walk is not hurting your feet.
So, is it possible to have happier, healthier, beautiful feet again without surgery?
Absolutely! Bunions and hammertoes affect one in every three Americans—and women nine times more often than men.
But these types of foot problems in either gender are virtually unknown among cultures where wearing open sandals or going barefoot is the norm. That's because most shoes—even sensible, well-fitted ones with custom-made orthotic supports—confine the foot's moveable parts, freezing them in unnatural positions.
Those that provide "beneficial" arch support actually weaken the arch's muscles, the same way a sling weakens an arm.
A woman's susceptibility to bunions and hammertoes is partly due to pointy-toed stilettos, but also because even women's sports shoes are often scaled-down versions of men's shoes, rather than designed for the proportions of a woman's foot.
One study found that 88 percent of women wore shoes too narrow for their feet, and 71 percent of them had bunions (Orthopedic Clinics of North America).
When you walk barefoot, your toes normally spread apart, and your first metatarsal (the bone that attaches to your big toe) bears about twice the weight of your other four metatarsals combined. But shoes keep your toes from spreading, which they naturally want to do.
To compensate, the far end of your first metatarsal bone starts angling towards your opposite foot, and to compensate for that, the tip of your big toe starts angling toward your little toe. This results in the "bunion bump," which is caused by the abnormal angle between those two bones.
Your foot naturally responds to these changes by shifting more weight onto the metatarsals of your middle toes, but the abnormal angle of the big toe pulls on the ligaments of these other toes, causing them to rear up and bend like claws.
The result is an increasingly distorted foot that makes wearing most shoes uncomfortable. The conservative therapies for these conditions include wearing well-fitted shoes and orthotic inserts, doing foot exercises, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and even having surgery.
These treatments may temporarily relieve symptoms, but they do nothing to stop the progressive disfigurement. But with the right guidance, your foot can rehabilitate itself.
The key to improving these conditions is to re-teach your feet to interact with the ground the way they were designed to—without interference from shoes.
Now, I'm not suggesting you go barefoot in public. But I do suggest that you follow these recommendations, which improve the strength and health of normal feet and work wonders if you've been suffering from bunions and hammertoes:
► At home, walk barefoot. Make a point of spreading your toes and feeling the ground.
► In public, wear no higher than a 1-inch heel and, if possible, choose an open-toe sandal or a shoe with a roomy toe box.
► Before your daily walk, slip on a pair of "barefoot shoes" such as Vibram Five Fingers Walking shoes which separate your toes, strengthen the muscles of your feet, and encourage corrected alignment of the bones in your feet.
But be warned: These shoes feel so great that you may accidentally overdo it on the first day, so ease into it. You'll be amazed at how weak your feet are!
► At night, give yourself a deep foot massage with one teaspoon of massage oil and two or three drops of liquid lanolin.
► For hammertoes, wear a Pedifix Toe Straightener & Corrector at night.
► For bunions, at night wear a bunion or "hallux valgus" splint and, if your toes are crowded, toe separators such as GelSmart Toe Spreaders.► For painful bunions, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies show that a marigold (Tagetes patula) salve (such as Dr. Theiss Beinwell Salbe (Comfrey Salve) significantly reduces bunion pain and swelling (European Journal of Integrative Medicine). Follow label directions.
By following these recommendations, you'll have beautiful, healthy, pain-free feet before you know it!
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