Header photo of Jean West for Jean West August 2022 story.

Just in time for the holidays, Jean west offers relief and remedies that will ease your aching feet into some (more practical) party shoes.

Written by Jean West | Photo by Kylene White

I used to have beautiful feet. Long and narrow, 7 1/2 quadruple A shoe size.

It was hard finding dress shoes in that size, but I loved wearing sandals and open toe shoes. Now, the bunions, scars from metatarsal repair, the occasional corns, and calluses have me covering my feet whenever I can.

I can’t really remember when and how those bones in my big toes started to turn inward toward the others. I just noticed that I was having to buy wider shoes.

My closet is full of all types of shoes — heels, platform wedges, flats, in various sizes all in an attempt to find what is most comfortable, but also fashionable. That’s a rare find.

Your big toe is the hardest-working toe. Every time your foot pushes off the ground, this toe supports most of your body’s weight. Because the big toe is so critical to movement, any problem with it can make walking or even standing painful. A bunion is one of the most common big toe problems. In addition to  causing pain, a bunion changes the shape of the foot.

When both of my big toes started turning inward and became painful, it was time to take action. “I always tell my patients that shoes do not cause bunions but aggravate them. If you are genetically predisposed and never wore shoes in your life you would still have the bunion, but it would not be painful,” says Dr. Alan Mauser with Louisville Podiatry and the first to diagnose my problem.

“Bunions can be treated conservatively by modifying your footwear, using orthotics to control pronation and padding to absorb pressure.  However, to me bunions are a quality-of-life issue.  If they are problematic and affect the quality of your life, then may want to or choose to have them surgically corrected,” Dr. Mauser says.

As many as one in three Americans have bunions. The foot problem is more common in older adults, especially women. They can form on both feet. There are numerous products, procedures, and over-the-counter devices advertised for bunion repair. It’s difficult to know which ones work.

According to Dr. Mauser, “There are many products and braces out there for bunions.  None of them will correct a structural deformity.  They can only afford you temporary relief at best. What may give that relief is most often found by trial and error.”

My bunions were problematic and causing problems. Dr. Mauser and I decided that surgery was the best route one foot at a time. My first surgery was three years ago.

With the first bunion repair healed, it was time to have my other foot done. This was a complex decision. It had to be done in a time period where I could be out of commission for six weeks or more, post pandemic.

I did all the traveling that I needed to do before scheduling the surgery. That meant a visit to my son who lives in New York City. I love going there. New York is a walking city. Because traveling had become problematic with delays, lost checked bags, and other issues, I decided my ballet flats were a better fit in my carry on than my athletic shoes. I walked all over New York City, in flats — Little Island, the floating Botanical Garden in the middle of the Hudson River, Chelsea Market and all the coolest places in Harlem.

Two days after I got back home, I could hardly stand on my right foot. What had I done?

Dr. Mauser shed some light for me. “Your bunion was inherited as was your foot structure. You have a congenital flat foot that has gotten progressively worse over the years displacing the joints in your hind foot and causing tendons and ligaments to stretch and become ineffective.”

In other words, he explained that I have flat feet and the copious walking without a supported arch caused the tendon and ligaments in my foot to basically go awry.

“From an early age (2 yrs old) you might have had the pediatric flat foot corrected with orthotics but over time as the deformity progressed, you would be able to tolerate them. You could have had your pediatric flat foot surgically corrected around age 13-16 years old. As you matured, your deformity progressed and has become a more rigid deformity causing pain.  At this point, surgery is recommended as it now affects the quality of your life.” Dr. Mauser suggests.

So, by the time you read this, I will be in a cast, sleeping with a wedge, maneuvering with a knee scooter, crutches, and something called an I-Walk – that’s straight out of a sci-fi movie. After three months, let’s hope I’m back in those sandals, and killing it on the dance floor. Stay tuned and happy holidays!


Read Jean West’s Modern Family column “Do We Have an Expiration Date?“.