The only good thing that can be said about Bunion, those bony bumps that protrude at the base of the big toe. Is that there’s a lot you can do to relieve the pain they often cause. Bunions develop when the bones of the big toe become misaligned, causing the toe to angle toward the second toe, and sometimes to overlap or tuck beneath it. This puts pressure on your big toe joint, pushing it outward beyond the normal profile of your foot.
Bunions start out small, but they usually get worse over time—pressure on the joint can create inflammation, leaving it red and swollen. And because the joint flexes with every step and carries much of your weight while walking, the bigger a bunion gets, the more painful and difficult walking can become. Adding insult to injury, many people who suffer from bunions on one foot often have one on the other foot, too. Ouch! Before you take another step, try these fixes for your aching feet. (Looking for more simple, smart tips? Discover Prevention—and get 2 FREE gifts when you subscribe today.)
The underlying cause of bunions is genetic: Most people with bunions have inherited flat feet or feet that overpronate (roll inward more than normal), issues that leave feet more vulnerable to the development of bunions. But shoes with narrow, pointy toes can also trigger them, and high heels—which force toes into the front of shoes—exacerbate the problem. So it’s no surprise that 90% of bunions occur in women.
Wear the right shoes
Maybe a no-brainer, but it’s a good place to start. Sure, you love the way your calves look in heels, but all that height is probably putting a lot of pressure on your toe joints, including the one with the bunion.
In most cases, bunion pain can be managed by switching to shoes that are roomy enough to accommodate the bunion and allow you to wiggle your toes. A square toe box is the most desirable shape, but a round one is still better than a pointed one. Low heels (no more than an inch high) are ideal, but if style wins out, at least look for shoes with a stable heel that’s relatively wide. And opt for soft leather over synthetic materials, which cause the foot to sweat, leading to blisters. “I’ve seen patients who’ve completely worn out the skin overlying their bunion by wearing footwear made of synthetic materials,” reports, a foot and ankle surgeon, who created a line of high-fashion, foot-friendly shoes. Another no-no: shoes that have seams in the toe box, which can rub up against and irritate bunions.
Get your feet professionally measured
You might think you wear a size 7 shoe, but heading to your nearest shoe store for a professional sizing could surprise you. Not only could one or both of your feet measure a half-size smaller or bigger than you think, you might also have wide feet that are just plain suffering inside your narrow dress shoes. Getting your feet sized, says Dr. Ucciferri, can be an eye-opening experience that makes it way more comfortable to pound the pavement on a daily basis.
Apply ice wrapped in a thin cloth or paper towel to the toe joint for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Ice constricts blood vessels, which numbs pain and relieves swelling. (Find out whether you should heat or ice your injuries.)
Topical or oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help control the pain of a bunion. (Just avoid these pain med mistakes.) For severe bunions, an injection of cortisone right into the joint can reduce swelling and discomfort. Because the injection is so localized, it often does a better job than taking a pill. But because the inflammation will build up again, the results are likely to be temporary.
Try steroid injections
If OTC pain meds aren’t cutting it, Dr. Ucciferri recommends talking to your podiatrist about cortisone injections, which can reduce pain and swelling right at the source of your woes. According to the Mayo Clinic, getting repeated cortisone shots (or high-dose shots) can cause damage to the surrounding tissue, bone, and cartilage, so this is probably more of a short-term solution than a long-term one.
If your shoes have enough space to accommodate them, you can cushion the bunion or protect it from friction with a gel or moleskin pad. Oloff advises avoiding medicated pads, which contain acids that can eat away at skin. “For patients with poor blood supply or nerve damage, these can be particularly harmful,” she says.
Wear a moleskin pad
This nifty little gel pads are designed to cushion the bunion and reduce friction inside your shoe, which Dr. Ucciferri says can make wearing your favorite kicks a bit more comfortable. Find them at your local pharmacy or online, too.
Many moleskin pads can be applied to either your foot or your shoe to prevent painful rubbing, and most can also be cut down to the exact size and shape you need. They’re an affordable option that might reap big-time relief benefits.
These molded shoe inserts work to correct the mechanics that cause a bunion to form. “Orthotics limit abnormal pronation, which in turn stabilizes the big toe joint and the bones in the foot,” Oloff explains. So besides minimizing pain, orthotics may also keep bunions from progressing. For serious cases, pricey custom-made inserts, which are specifically shaped to your feet, are often necessary. But people with less severe problems should try OTC insoles first—Oloff says she often uses them when patients need immediate help. “Even if we proceed with custom orthotics down the road, the initial relief makes them worth a try.”
Splints and braces
There’s a dizzying array of these types of products—some are flexible and can be worn inside your shoe, while others are rigid and can only be worn at night. Many (falsely) claim to be able to correct your bunions. “There’s no way these products can overcome the forces that created the bunion,” says retired podiatrist Mayde Lebensfeld, DPM. However, because they move the toe into proper position and relieve tension on the tendon and toe muscles, these gadgets may temporarily alleviate bunion pain.
Since the mechanics of everyone’s feet are different, you’ll need to do some experimenting to find a splint or brace that works for you. Just be sure to manage your expectations, advises Oloff. “Some people will feel that they help a little, some will feel they help a lot, and others won’t feel they help at all.”
Special foot exercises won’t prevent or fix bunions. But strengthening the toe and foot muscles may relieve pain and discomfort and stave off stiffness—especially if the joint becomes arthritic, says Lebensfeld. Try using your toes to spell out the alphabet or to pick up marbles one by one and place them in a bowl. Even just stretching out your toes (point them straight ahead for 5 seconds, then curl them under for another 5 seconds) or manually pulling your big toe into alignment for 10 seconds can help offset bunion pain. Repeat the exercises a few times throughout the day.
Surgery is generally a last resort, but it’s the only method that’s been proven to truly correct a bunion and eliminate the pain it causes.
There are several types of surgery, and the options vary depending on whether your deformity is mild, moderate, or severe. While many people are glad they went through with the procedure, there’s no guarantee: One study found that about a third of patients were dissatisfied, even when their pain and toe alignment improved; in another survey, 85 to 90% of patients were happy with the results. The good news, says Oloff, is that there’s rarely any need to rush into bunion surgery, so you can (and should) try other fixes first.
9 Facts to Know About Bunions Foot Pain
Bunion pain can be so severe it can actually impact every second of your day. If you need treatment for bunions, foot surgery, or just want to consult with a medical professional about your foot pain, it’s best to act right away. Neglecting any pain can impact both the severity and the longevity of the pain itself.
From understanding the treatment for bunions to your individual likelihood of experiencing severe foot pain, it’s important to understand as much as possible about bunions and foot issues. Here are some interesting facts about bunions, treatment, and general foot care.
- Every human foot has 26 bones, meaning that 25% of all the bones inside your body are actually located in your feet.
- Women are 10 times more likely to develop bunion deformities than men.
- Roughly 85% of people have legs that are two different sizes. Often, this discrepancy results in an uneven gait and a bunion on the foot of the leg that’s longer.
- Approximately 75% of Americans will experience foot health issues of varying degrees of severity at least one time in their lives.
- About 19% of the U.S. population has, on average, 1.4 feet problems each year.
- Small shoes can lead to bunion issues. According to a study by the American Foot and Ankle Society, of the 88% of women who wear shoes that are too small, 55% have bunions.
- Approximately one out of every 10 Americans suffers from Plantar Fasciitis at some point during their lifetime.
- Hammer toe is a deformity that causes either the second or third toe to curl or bend downward instead of pointing straight ahead.
- The average American adult takes approximately 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day. Additionally, most Americans travel 75,000 miles on their feet by the time they reach the age of 50.
As long as you know how to take care of your feet, rest them every once in a while, and are aware of your chances of developing bunions, you should be in for a long life of traveling around on your feet. Don’t let major foot pain hinder your daily comfort anymore — get help right away. If you’re in need of treatment for bunions and want to learn more about how painless bunion surgery Orange County can help get you back on your feet, contact Dr