By Sam Belyea a.k.a. The Foot Whisperer
One of my favorite topics to talk about is the significance, physiology and release of bunions. I know I’m a bodywork geek, but bunions are fascinating structures that develop under a definable set of circumstances, which I will be sharing in this blog post in addition to methods of reversing bunions, why bunions form and why they do not reverse automatically.
The big take-away that I would like to put in front of you is that the body is an amazing place and it is a super intelligent organism. Learning to work with your body through its signs and symptoms of pain, discomfort and dis-ease is part of your journey in life. Pain is not bad and deviations (like bunions) aren’t created because of random happenstance. Your body doesn’t hate you and it’s not that you’re are getting older. EVERYTHING is significant within the body and the body uses signs and symptoms like bunions to show you that a lifestyle change is needed to reduce physical, mental and emotional stress. Unfortunately, the only language the body has is things that make you go ‘Ow!’ or ‘Ew!’.
Being given the title of Foot Whisperer by my clients shows how much I have worked with the feet, but bunions aren’t just a foot issue. Before I get started outlining the key reasons why bunions form, we need to understand that the ENITRE body is interconnected through a system of pulleys and levers in the form of muscles, bones and connective tissue (known as ‘fascia’). Because of this, whenever we experience pain or a symptom that we don’t like, there has to be a moment when we realize that the symptom itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The bunion, in this case, is just the messenger for a larger, interconnected grievance that the body is trying to vocalize. Respecting that interconnectedness is the first step towards holistic symptom recovery.
Now, let’s move onto how bunions form. But, there’s a twist; there are physical and internal reasons for bunion formation and we are going to cover both of them…
The Physical Reason for Bunions
“A bunion is a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. It forms when your big toe pushes against your next toe, forcing the joint of your big toe to get bigger and stick out. The skin over the bunion might be red and sore.” ~ The Mayo Clinic (check out the definition here)
Now, this is a wonderful definition which can be summarized as: A deviation of the big toe joint, normally with an increase in size and pain. This gives us an idea of what a bunion is, but what the Mayo Clinic says next is the common misconception about WHY bunions form:
“Wearing tight, narrow shoes might cause bunions or make them worse. Bunions also can develop as a result of an inherited structural defect, stress on your foot or a medical condition, such as arthritis.” ~ The Mayo Clinic
WRONG! The funny thing about bunions is that some people get them and others don’t. It’s not always women who get bunions and bunions aren’t inherited (i.e. there is no ‘bunion gene’). Likewise, I know women who wear tight, high-heeled and uncomfortable shoes all day long with no signs of bunions forming while others get them in abundance despite spending THOUSANDS of dollars on ‘correct’ shoes. As I saw more bunion clients, I also saw way to many inconsistencies for this definition of WHY bunions form to make sense. As things continued to not add up, I started to do my research and found the following reasons for why bunions start to form in the first place:
1. It All Starts with the Hips…
The body’s structure is based on the principal of ‘tensegrity’, which is just a fancy name for the system of pulleys and levers mentioned earlier. Basically, everything is pulling on everything else. The job of the foot is to, through this system of tensegrity, transfer the force of our body while keeping us balanced. However, the feet can only do so much. Physically, the feet are really small compared to the massive legs, wide hips and broad shoulders. So, when deeper structural issues begin to take hold, the feet will ‘bear the weight’ of that dysfunction.
What I found out was that when we start to compromise our muscle integrity through lack of healthy exercise (too much or too little, too strenuous or too relaxing), the joints of the body begin to deviate on subtle levels which will eventually produce things like low back pain and hip pain. This pain is the result of muscles and connective tissue no longer having the strength or memory of how to hold the joints in alignment. Back pain and hip pain then become the ‘alarms’ that tell us we are losing our proper positioning internally.
However, most people don’t treat the cause of this pain – they only treat the symptom. So, the body (not having resolved the underlying issue of misalignment and muscular integrity) pushes the pain down into the knees and up into the chest/shoulders. If that tension/pain isn’t heard and acted upon, with the end result of restoring alignment and rebuilding muscular integrity, then the tension/pain is pushed into the ankles and neck. Finally, without the ability to re-align, the feet take it upon themselves to ‘toughen up’ and deviate their shape to create a wider base of support a.k.a. The Bunion.
2. The Bunion is a Kickstand and a Whistle-Blower…
Learning this chain of dysfunction really opened my eyes to a simple fact: The bunion is created to help the body – it’s NEEDED! The body uses precious energy to create this swollen joint whose function is to provide support from the ground up that the body is lacking. Amazing! So, instead of cursing the poor thing, we should be thanking the body for producing such an ingenious method of both getting our attention – through the pain and visual size of the bunion – and creating a wider foundation so we don’t collapse from the structural misalignments held deeper within the body.
Compensation is the key word here. The bunion is what we like to call a structural compensation or ‘compensation pattern’ in bodywork. This means that the bunion is the result of deeper deviations, for which the body is trying to adjust by creating new patterns that serve to counter-balance the unhealthy deviations so we can still function day-to-day. The bunion is then produced as a glorified kickstand. Likewise, the pain felt within the bunion is the body’s way of saying ‘We are still not ok!’ because the initial problem of the deeper misalignment that started in the core of the body is still VERY present. The bunion then becomes the whistle-blower that finally gets your attention after ignoring all of the other signs like back pain, hip pain, knee/shoulder pain and ankle/neck pain that came before the bunion formed.
The Personality Quirks of Bunion Sufferers…
As I grew my practice and starting being sought after for using Reflexology to help with bunion pain, I began to notice a few similarities in regards to who came in with bunions and their personality type. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but I noticed that my clients who reported terrible bunion pain also reported significant levels of emotional stress. Then, I had multiple bunion clients push the envelope by showing up late to their sessions saying “Traffic was terrible!” or “I’ve been running around all day!” or, the best “I’m always late for everything!” That’s when I began to notice, even if bunion clients didn’t show up late, they were always in a reported state of emotional overload.
Looking at factors like bunion size, redness, how long it had reportedly been present and the overall ‘stats’ of the bunion gave me further confirmation. Some clients had bunions pop up spontaneously at the same time as major life stressors, which the bunions would promptly recede after the stressor had ceased. Clients who reported always having their bunion(s), or the bunion being present from a young age, reported that it would get worse during certain times especially surrounding high-stress periods when a lot was going on in their life. The theme was emotional pressure and a feeling of being constantly overwhelmed.
I would see clients who told me that I had ‘fixed’ their bunion, but that it came back the next week. Even post-surgery, the bunions would re-grow as well! Other times, the client would be at their wits end and decide that they just couldn’t take the ‘pressure’, upon making these declarations there was a decided change in lifestyle which corrected the bunion over time without the need for intervention. The physical deviation was truly fluctuating based on the internal state of the client – another amazing thing to witness!
The combination of a high-stress lifestyle, lack of exercise and lack overall self-care created the physical pressure and internal nervous system stress that resulted in the same symptom forming: a bunion.
How to Correct a Bunion (Based on What I’ve Seen)…
Terrible analogy, but there are many way to skin this cat. I’ve seen a couple recurring themes in bunion recovery that I would like to share with you, but first let me share three methods that my clients report DO NOT work as well as reported:
I have heard multiple accounts of the direct spreading of the toes to be unsuccessful. Why? Because the true problem isn’t located within the feet! The pure mass of the hips, legs and upper body is stronger than the feet could ever be so trying to override the structural patterns passively without fixing the rest of the body reportedly doesn’t do much.
Now, before I get a bunch of foot surgeons banging down my door, let me disclaim that my clients are the ones that tell me “Bunion surgery is 50/50.” I’ve heard this unanimously and have seen these surgeries both succeed and go terribly wrong. Granted, great strides have been made since the 80’s and 90’s in terms of bunion surgery, but I still hear mixed reviews from my clients so do your research and exhaust all other methods before the knife.
Manual Manipulation (INCLUDING Reflexology!)
I get mixed results too! What I find is that my bunion clients who come in are either on the war path to get rid of this thing or that they aren’t sure whether or not it’s a true problem. If my clients are serious, then our sessions paired with pointed lifestyle coaching gives them the tools to self-heal. However, if you are looking for me to come in and save the day by massaging your bunions away, it doesn’t work that way… The bunion is a full-body issue that requires a complete overhaul of the physical and internal components of the stress that caused it – no one bodyworker can override the body’s voice or take the place of a healthy lifestyle.
The Things That Work:
As a full-body practice that is done to unite the person with their body and rebuild structural integrity, learning the practice of yoga is a supreme bunion-fighting system. Incorporating both physical postures with internal meditation and breath work creates a fantastic dual-natured approach to a dual-natured symptom. From reported experience, my clients say that yoga helps reduce bunion size more than anything else on the market.
Lowering Stress Levels
Overall, your body is a product of how wound up you are at any time. In the throes of stress, your physical shape changes and you are more likely to neglect self-care routines that previously kept you together. Making sure that you have the mechanisms in place that work for you to handle upswings in your stress levels (both perceived good stress and perceived bad stress) is an essential tool for any symptom reduction, including bunions.
Back to the personality traits of always being on the go, running around and not taking time to recollect yourself, having healthy boundaries ensures that you will not compromise your own wellbeing for your to-do list. Taking the time to rest, appropriately releasing stress in healthy ways and cultivating hobbies that ground you are tools that reinforce a balanced dynamic of what you say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to. There will always be things that take priority, but YOU need to be one of those things, which is what healthy (but not overly-flexible or overly-rigid) boundaries are for.
Maybe the last thing on the mind of most bunion sufferers, but diet is definitely connected to bunions for a few good reasons. I have found that as bunion size increases, so does the stress present within the digestive reflexes located in the arch of the foot. Back to boundaries, taking care that you don’t skip meals, you have healthy snacks to fill you on the go and that you are regularly drinking water will help your body maintain a balanced state. Because bunions are a holistic symptom, checking good eating habits off the ‘possible causes’ list is just one more thing to be aware of when seeking to erase the symptom.
There you have it, an in-depth look at my experience as a Reflexologist when working with clients who suffer from bunions. The importance of having a supportive healthcare team that actively communicates with you is important. Take the time to do your research and become an informed client as well. Should you have any questions, comments or would like to work on releasing bunions from your feet, feel free to connect with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as scheduling a Reflex Consultation through the Book Appointment page and checking out our Facebook page for the institute - Oh, and we have videos onYouTube.