Dealing with Bunions in Cold Weather

Dr. Anthony Spitz, DPM

Podiatrist & Ankle and Foot Surgeon located in Wheeling, IL

There’s no “good season” to have a bunion. But as with many other problems (physical or otherwise), the frigid, windy Chicago winter has a way of making everything seem much worse.

In fact, many of our patients tell us that their bunion pain goes through the roof just as wind chills plummet. Is it just a coincidence? Or is there really something to the observation?

Why Your Bunion Might Hurt Worse in Wintertime

By far, the most likely reason for your increased bunion pain is related to your footwear choices.

For most people with bunions, the majority of the pain comes not from the bunion itself, but from friction and pressure between the bunion and the inside of the shoe. Often this leads to irritation, broken skin, and even blisters and corns along the bunion bump, or where toes are rubbing together.

In the summertime, you might be more inclined to go barefoot, wear sandals, or at the very least wear softer, wider, more forgiving shoes. These footwear choices are relatively accommodating and give your bunion more space to operate without irritation.

But in dead of winter, those sandals (usually the most forgiving footwear type for bunions) get banished to the back of the closet, and are replaced by much less forgiving shoes and tough, waterproof boots. Less room to wiggle and firmer resistance from footwear will quickly wear that bunion down.

And there’s an even bigger downside. In addition to increase your pain in the moment, poor footwear choices can accelerate the rate at which your bunion gets worse. So even though the weather will eventually warm up, that doesn’t mean your bunion symptoms will go back down to what they were before—and you may be even closer to ultimately needing a bunion surgery to repair the damage.

Besides footwear, some additional minor contributing factors may include:

Weight gain. Many people put on a few pounds during the winter. More weight equals more pressure on the bunion.

Arthritis. For some people, joints become stiffer when the temperature or barometric pressure drops. This could make a difference, especially for a more severe bunion.

Weaker skin. Skin tends to dry out during winter, for a variety of reasons (including indoor heat, and even hot showers). This could make it more prone to breaking down and becoming irritated from friction.

How to Deal with Bunions This Winter

Since poor footwear is usually the main cause of wintertime bunion pain, good footwear is going to be the main solution.

If you have bunions, it’s especially critical that you choose shoes and boots that fit correctly and offer a lot of wiggle room in the toe box. Leather is a good choice of material, since it’s relatively soft, breathable, and forgiving. You may even be able to get an existing pair of boots adjusted if you’re having trouble finding one of the appropriate size off the rack.

We also typically recommend that you wear a nonmedicated bunion pad, which can give the outside of your big toe joint a little extra friction protection. Depending on your condition, toe separators or splints might also be an acceptable option.

Once you’re back indoors, switch out of those boots and wear comfy walking shoes, or even just your socks. This will relieve a lot of the external pressure and friction.

What If My Pain Won’t Go Away?

Bunion pain that is persistent, significant, and preventing you from living your preferred lifestyle should not be ignored. If conservative treatments (including other options not discussed above) are not allowing you to manage your symptoms successfully, we’ll likely recommend a surgical solution.

If that scares you, it shouldn’t—because when it comes to bunion surgery, Dr. Anthony Spitz truly is one of the very best.

Surgical techniques for bunions have come a long way even in just the last few years. And Dr. Spitz has remained on the cutting edge (no pun intended). We are one of just three clinics in the state providing minimally invasive bunion surgery to our patients.

You can read more about this procedure in one of our recent blogs, but the short summary is that this technique offers many significant improvements over traditional bunion surgeries, including:

Much faster recovery time (including a faster return to weight-bearing activity).

Less pain and scarring, and lower risk of post-surgical complications.

Little to no need for pins, screws, or other hardware .

Often much lower cost, especially because hospitalization is not required.

In any case, regardless of how big or small your bunions currently are, or how much they are bothering you, the best decision you can make is scheduling an appointment at our office.

The earlier you seek a professional evaluation, the better your odds of being able to manage symptoms conservatively, avoid surgery, and maintain an active, pain-free lifestyle.

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