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Why Women's Feet Hurt More in Autumn


Fall is not always a fun time of year for some women.

In the summer months, women like to wear flip-flop sandals and open-toed shoes, but as autumn arrives, many women make the annual changeover of their wardrobes to closed-in shoe styles more appropriate to the cooler weather. The transition proves more painful for some women, not because of being a slave for fashion, but because of pain they are experiencing from their feet.

According to Dr. Thanh Dinh, DPM, FACFAS, a foot and ankle surgeon and president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, two of the most common types of pain women feel in their feet during the transition from open-toed shoes to enclosed shoes or high heels come from bunions or hammertoes.

“A bunion is a change in the bony framework of the front part of the foot and is most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot,” Dr. Dinh explains. “When the big toe leans towards the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead it throws the bones out of alignment and produces the all-too-familiar, bunion bump.”

A common myth is that tight-fitting or narrow shoes cause bunions, but since it is a condition passed down through genetics, enclosed shoes—like the shoes women wear in the fall—can make the condition worse and cause pain.

Hammertoes can also be a cause for autumn foot pain for women. “A hammertoe is a ‘bending’ or contracture deformity of one or both joints of a toe, Dr. Dinh says. “The abnormal bending puts pressure on the toe when wearing shoes and causes problems to develop—which can start mildly and progressively worsen over time.”

The pain from both these conditions causes women to be a common sight in the waiting rooms of many foot and ankle surgeons during this time of year.

The pain or soreness from bunions most often occurs along the side of the foot near the big toe. Women sometimes describe the pain as a throbbing that continues even after you take off your shoes and put up your feet. The site of the bunion can also be inflamed or red and can feel numb or have a burning sensation. The symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes – tight shoes or high heels.

Dr. Dinh explains women with hammertoes can experience pain or irritation of the affected toe when wearing shoes. “Corns and calluses (a buildup of skin) on the toe, between the toes or on the ball of the foot can occur from the constant friction against the shoes with hammertoes.” Inflammation, redness or a burning sensation is also possible and in severe cases, open sores may form,” she adds.

Because shoes do not cause bunions or hammertoes but may cause bunion and hammertoe pain, foot and ankle surgeons first recommend changes in shoe wear, padding and anti-inflammatory medication. Avoiding high-heeled shoes and styles that crowd the toes together, such as wide toe boxes, can help. Dr. Dinh says proper shoe selection and conservative treatments can go a long way.

While these techniques address pain, they don’t generally stop the bunion or hammertoe from getting worse. Surgery then becomes the best option to correct the deformities and alleviate the pain.

"Bunion surgery and hammertoe surgeries are very common procedures performed by foot and ankle surgeons to help reduce foot pain for women,” says Dr. Dinh. “In fact, women who suffer from both ailments can have surgery to correct the foot deformities at the same time,” she adds. “Recovery time varies on the procedure (s) performed based on the advancement of the deformities, the number of toes involved, age and other factors, but the success rates for the surgeries are encouraging.”

Another common myth heard by foot and ankle surgeons is that bunions will come back after surgery. Dr. Dinh expresses it is one of the biggest myths she dispels from patients. “I tell my patients that the advanced procedures foot and ankle surgeons perform today to fix bunion deformities reduce the likelihood of a recurrence,” she adds.

If you are experiencing increased foot pain during the autumn months or anytime during the year, make an appointment with your local foot and ankle surgeon to see how they can help alleviate your pain. To find a foot and ankle surgeon near you, use our Find an ACFAS Physician Tool at the top of the page.