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How to help your bunions if you don’t want surgery

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A top down view of a pair of feet with the toes splayed out surrounded by foot exercise gear, toe spacers, and foot shaped barefoot shoes

Written in collaboration withAndy Bryant, Podiatrist.

Bunions can be a real nuisance. But there is a lot that can be done about it! Whether it’s the pain, dysfunction or appearance of the bunion that’s bothering you, there are practical steps to improve the conditionwithout the help of surgery.

We’re talking about more than just ice & amp; rest here. But neither are we making empty promises of miracle cures. This is a podiatrist’s guide to really improving your bunions by addressing the underlying issues. 

Do you have bunion pain? Let’s take a plunge.

Index

  1. What is a bunion?
  2. What causes a bunion?
    • Does genetics cause bunions?
    • Does lifestyle cause bunions?
    • Do shoes cause bunions?
    • Will barefoot shoes fix my bunions?
  3. What to do about your bunion
    • Foot-shaped footwear
    • Tip Spacers
    • Mobilize the toes & amp; Footer
    • strengthen your toes & Footer
    • Strengthen The Ankle
    • Mobilize & Strengthen the Hip
  4. Bunion Before & After
  5. Conclusion

What is a bunion?

image of two feet showing What is a bunion - one has the mtp joint migrating outward, the other is a straight line from the 1st metatarsal through the big toe

Contrary to popular belief, a bunion is not a growth on the outside of the toe joint. A bunion (also known as hallux valgus) is actually a misalignment of the foot. The joint at the base of the big toe – or sometimes little toe – pulls away from the foot, causing the head of the bone to stick out to the side and the toes to droop in. 

The more those joints get out of alignment, the more the head of the bone sticks out – giving your foot that classic bunion shape. No growth, just exposed bone. Oh!

 A foot with a bunion is widest at the base of the toes. By contrast, the natural shape of a foot is wider at the tips of the toes. 

So how do you get a bunion to begin with?

What causes a bunion?

The root cause of bunions is multifactorial.  This means that it is likely thatseveral overlapping reasons why you have a bunion

An infographic showing that the cause of bunions is multifactoral and involves genetics, ill fitting shoes, excessive sitting, and poor gait.

Does genetics cause bunions?

Traditionally, bunions have been attributed entirely to genetics, but we’re starting to see that the environment our feet are in (and the body they’re attached to!) has a big effect on bunion formation.

Still, there are two genetic factors worth noting that Dr. Andy seesimplicated in the formation of bunions.

  1. A wide intermetatarsal angle– This is a type of foot that you can be born with where there is a wider than usual angle between the first and second foot bones. Bunions are more common in those with a wide angle and less in those with bones closer to parallel.
  2. Joint flexibility– You are more likely to get a bunion if you have very flexible joints, both locally in the foot and overall throughout the body (hypermobility).  Women tend to have more joint flexibility than men,which is one of the possible reasons why bunions are more common in women than in men. 

But these factors do not dictate whether or not you will have bunions! Many people who are genetically predisposed never get bunions, and many people whoare notreadydohave bunions. You can’t control your genetics, but you can control your environment.

Does lifestyle cause bunions?

Although there are genetic factors that can predispose you to bunions, the reality is that our lifestyle choices have a tremendous impact on the health of our feet. 

Factors like how strong and dynamic our core is, how multidimensional our movement patterns are, and – perhaps most importantly – the shoes we wear daily can influence whether or not we develop bunions. 

Do shoes cause bunions?

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If you live in a shoe-wearing culture, chances are your feet have been lodged in shoes for most of your life. And sadly, most shoes today are wider at the ball of the foot and then taper towards the toes – the exact shape of a foot with a bunion! So is it so surprising that so many of our feet match the shape of the shoes we wear every day? 

We know that bodies can be transformed and changed by external stimuli – think foot restraints, ear muffs, neck rings, and corsets. Combine a foot brace (also known as a restrictive shoe) for hours on end with a genetic predisposition for bunions, and the result can be a bunion.

A graphic showing the different ways we modify our bodies by binding or stretching it - via ear gauges, neck rings, corsets, and foot binding

And whywe rarely see bunions in shoeless populations, it makes sense to consider our footwear. Pointy fashion shoes may be another reason why we see bunions more often in women than men.

Will barefoot shoes fix my bunions?

So if I stop wearing pointy shoes and start wearing foot shaped shoes, will my bunions go away? Not quite!Barefoot shoesthey have a natural foot shape that doesn’t squash the big toe, and Andy has seen numerous cases of bunions that improve over time simply by switching to bunions. But unfortunately, “fixing” a bunion is usually not that easy. 

When the big toe joint changes position to form a bunion, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the area also change.  They can become tighter, weaker, stronger, or looser. Therefore, addressing these soft tissue changes along with better shoe and lifestyle choices is a more holistic approach to improving your bunions.

What to do about your bunion

As a podiatrist, Andy works with people affected by bunions every day. And he has seen many of them reduce their pain, restore function, and even sometimes completely reverse their bunion through the steps below. The degree to which he can improve your bunion varies from person to person, but if you want to avoid surgerythis is where you start(and we recommend starting másooner rather than later).

Keep in mind that surgery is always an option – but let it be the last option. Bunion surgery is a big deal andGiving rehab a proper chance can bring you so much relief that you could avoid surgery altogether.If you do end up with bunion surgery, you will still benefit from the recommendations here, as you will have healthier feet and better results.

This is how Dr. Andy treats bunion patients:

Foot-shaped footwear

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While we have already established that footwear is not the ultimate solution for bunions, it cannot be underestimated thatshoes should be part of the discussion.If you want to give your foot a chance to realign (and you wear shoes for a long time), those shoes should have room for your big toeset right.  

All the exercise and support in the world won’t be enough if we’re going to put a foot with a bunion back in a pointed and tapered shoe all day every day. So step 1 is to wear anatomically shaped shoes.

Interested in barefoot shoes? Here is how it starts!

It’s worth noting that “foot-shaped” shoes may have more room than you can fill at first, because bunions cause your toes to become compressed. So consider your new pair of shoes aspirational – You need to stop squashing your feet and provide an opportunity for your toes to spread. Over time, your toes will likely start to fill out the shoe, especially if you wear toe spacers with them.

a grid of right shoes that have an anatomical foot shape next to a right foot that has a bunion with the text "Buying Shoes When You Have Bunions, by Anya's Reviews" written over it
Learn more aboutOur tips for buying shoes with bunions here!

Tip Spacers

Another fruit that comes within easy reach when it comes to improving bunions are toe separators. Toe separators can help realign your foot and are easy to add to your life. They are the opposite of soft footwear – Instead of compressing your toes, toe spacers spread them apart.

A picture of a pair of feet with hallux valgus, or bunions, with one wearing Correct Toes toe spacers and the other not to show how the spacers put your foot into alignment

There are many different types of toe separators. We likeCorrect Toesbetter because they are adjustable, they come in 4 sizes for different foot shapes and you can wear them all day – even inside shoes and during exercise.

There are also many one-size-fits-all spacers available, like these fromThe finger spacer. But those tend to spread your toes apart more aggressively and don’t wear as easily all day as correct toes. They work best for average size feet and for shorter periods of time. The upside is that these spacers are fairly cheap, so it might be a more affordable starting point.

If your bunions are so severe that these full foot spacers are difficult to tolerate, asingle spacercan be worn between the first and second toes. You can also modify the previous spacers to fit your foot by cutting portions.

Read more about the benefits of toe separators in this article.

Mobilize the toes & amp; Footer

This is where you have to put in some effort, becausemobilityon the joints is necessary if you want to see a change in the alignment of your foot. Not only will it improve the bunion, but it is also necessary for your foot to do its job of absorbing the impact and propel you forward. 

In particular, the big toe joint needs 60-70 degrees of curvature to function properly. Bunions are often stiff, and that amount of flexing can be really hard! Here are some ways you can improve your foot mobility.

foot mobilizing exercises to realign the foot and improve your bunions
  • Self massage– This simple technique is surprisingly effective. 
  • Roll on a ball – You can apply pressure under the bunion and throughout the foot.
  • Wear flexible shoes – So you get natural movement of your foot throughout the day (barefoot shoes are flexible!).
  • Walking barefoot on uneven surfaces.

strengthen your toes & Footer

As with any other muscle in the body, the muscles in our feet can be strengthened by loading them.

Joint mobility helps bring your bunion back into alignment, while joint strength helps increase the stability needed forstayin alignment. The fun thing about foot exercises is that many of them mobilize AND strengthen!

These are some of our favorites

A collage of different ways to strength your feet to improve your bunions
  • Toe Yoga – keep the heel planted and isolate the movement of the big toe and outer toes by lifting them individually.
  • Toe grabs – place a sack or towel under the ball of your foot and pull it toward you and then away from you using only your toes (heel planted).
  • Squeeze your toes– place a ball under your big toe and squeeze it for 15 seconds. Then lift your big toe away from the ball and hold for 15 seconds. You can do the same exercise with the ball under the outer fingers.

In general, you want to do each exercise for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until fatigue/cramps. It will most likely seem challenging at first, even frustrating! It’s okay if your movements are small at first – Keep up the good work and watch your progress!

Read more about exercises to strengthen your feet here.

You can also improve the health of your feet by strengthening your ankles, calves, and shins. That means being more physically active in almost any way will help your feet, too.

Strengthen The Ankle

When the ankle is strong and capable, it can take pressure off the foot and improve overall gait. Because bunion development is linked to foot dysfunction, better ankle health can improve your bunion. And ankle exercises are almost always foot strengthening exercises too!

Here are some easy ways to strengthen your ankles:

a collage of ways to strengthen your ankles to improve to help your bunions
  • Balance – walk on abalance beamor other irregular surfaces
  • Calf Raises
  • Jump rope barefoot
  • Single Leg Deadlift

Mobilize & Strengthen the Hip

The hip has a direct connection to how your foot works – This is why people with stiff, immobile hips often have foot dysfunction. Living a lifestyle rich in motion and change is one of the best ways to keep your hips mobile and strong. Don’t underestimate how much it can affect the health of your feet!

Our favorite way to improve hip strength and mobility is to sit on the floor. Ditching the chair and opting to squat and sit in as many different positions as possible can do wonders. We also recommend taking regular movement breaks to break up your session. If you want more intentional hip work,CARSthey are a fabulous workout!

A collage of four different ways to sit on the floor to improve your hip mobility and strength and your foot function

Bunion Before & After

You can see here examples of people who have changed their shoes and worked on the function of their feet to improve their bunion. These changes vary from person to person and often take a long time to become apparent. But we have seen time and time again that changeispossible! And even if your bunion doesn’t visibly change shape, natural foot care can prevent further damage and reduce pain and pain. inflammation.

A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises Justin
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises Breath Performance Physio
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises Gait Happens
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises @rhapsodyrebecca
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises @cyantheta
A bunion foot transformation using natural foot care, barefoot shoes, toe spacers, and foot exercises Penny Petite

Conclusion

As you can see, a bunion is much more than a gift from your parents. Which means there are things you can do about it! The steps in this article can help you improve your bunion symptoms and prevent further damage. Even if you don’t have a visible bunion, your feet and your body will benefit from making a few simple changes!

Do you want to work with someone to intentionally rehabilitate your bunion? TheGait Happens Fit Feet Programis customized to help you with your specific foot problems. They are leading experts in foot rehabilitation and offer some of the best remote treatment you will find.

About Andy

A head shot of natural barefoot friendly podiatrist Andy Bryant

Andy Bryant has been a chiropodist in Melbourne, Australia for 22 years. After a long time of practicing “conventional” podiatry, Andy’s yoga practice intrigued him to consider the potential of the feet to become stronger. His experiences soon trickled down to his clinical practice, where he empowers clients with education and tools to care for their feet more naturally.

PostingHow to relieve your bunions if you do not want surgeryfirst appeared inAnya’s Reviews.

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