Living with Bunions – What Can You Do to Alleviate Your Pain?

​​ Foot pain is a game changer when you’re on your feet all day. It slows you down, interrupts your routine, and gets worse as the day goes on. And when you have a painful bunion, even wearing socks and shoes can hurt. It may seem like the only way to relieve the pain is to stop and put your feet up. Rest is important to reduce the pain but slowing down isn’t always an option. 

If you have a painful bunion, you may be able to stay on your feet with some simple home treatments.

What Are Bunions?

A bunion is a bony bump on the outside of the big toe that forms when the toe changes position over time. It’s caused by shifting bones in the front of your foot. As they shift, they put pressure on the joint below your big toe, causing it to stick out while the tip of the toe slowly moves closer to the smaller toes. A bunion can limit the movement of your big toe and can be very painful.

A bunion can only be cured with surgery, but there are methods you can use at home to reduce the pain and swelling from a bunion.

person walking on grass barefot showign their feet that both have a bunion

What Can You Do To Treat The Bunion Pain?

A bunion alone can be painful due to the swelling around the joint, and more so when socks and shoes rub or put pressure on it. Try these tips to relieve the swelling and pain at home.

OTC pain relievers

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or naproxen, can provide quick relief from swelling and pain but may not be the right choice for you. NSAIDs shouldn’t be used as a long-term solution or with certain chronic conditions and medications. You should talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs. 

Hot or cold therapy

A cold pack or soak will constrict blood vessels, reducing swelling and the discomfort that goes with it. A warm soak can also be soothing, especially if you’re experiencing cramping in your foot. Heat relaxes sore joints and muscles and improves blood flow.

Change your shoes

Tight, narrow shoes or high heels could contribute to the growth of bunions or make them worse. Comfortable shoes with a roomy toe box can take pressure off the big toe and the bunion. Special orthopedic shoes designed to take the pressure off bunions are also available.  

Wear splints or toe spacers

A bunion splint wraps around your big toe to help hold the joint in a proper position and ease discomfort. Splints are usually worn at night. Bunion toe spacers come in soft silicon gel or in sock form. They separate the big and second toes to keep them from rubbing and help straighten the big toe.

Use moleskin pads for protection

Moleskin padding is a soft, durable fabric with a sticky backing. Putting it over or around the bunion protects the bunion from rubbing against the inside of your shoes. Change it daily.

Talk to your podiatrist about custom orthotics

Custom orthotics are made for the precise measurements of your feet. They provide support and balance for the foot and shift excess pressure away from the bunion.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight puts excess pressure on your feet, contributing to bunions or other foot problems. Maintaining a healthy weight is good for your foot health.

Exercise your feet

Exercises designed to help maintain flexibility and mobility in your foot can help relieve the discomfort and keep your feet healthy. Here are nine to try:

  1. Toe curls – sit where your feet don’t touch the floor. Slowly point and then curl your toes. Do 20 reps.
  2. Toe spreads – Sit with your feet on the floor. Keeping your heel on the ground, lift your toes and spread them out. Do 10-20 reps with each foot.
  3. Toe circles – While seated, lean over and grip your big toe or place your ankle on the opposite knee and grip the big toe. Circle your toe clockwise for 20 circles and then counterclockwise for 20 more.
  4. Toes figure eights – While seated, lean over and grip your big toe or place your ankle on the opposite knee and grip the big toe. Circle it in a figure-eight 20 times.
  5. Assisted toe abduction – Put an exercise band around both big toes. Gently pull your feet apart about shoulder width. Curl your toes into the floor and hold for 30 seconds. 
  6. Toe extension and flexion – Put an exercise band around both big toes and sit where your feet don’t touch the floor. Gently pull your feet apart to about shoulder wide. Alternate pointing and curling your toes. Do 20 reps.  
  7. Ball roll – While seated, place a baseball or tennis ball on the floor in front of you. Roll your foot over the ball. Repeat for 3-5 minutes with each foot.
  8. Heel raises – While seated with your feet flat on the floor, lift your heel and keep the ball of your foot on the floor. Move the weight of your foot to the outer ball of your foot. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat for 10 reps with each foot.
  9. Towel scrunch – While seated, put a small towel on the ground in front of your feet. With your heel on the ground, use your toes to pull the towel toward you.
a person wearing a pad protect their bunion from rubbing on their shoe

What To Do If None Of These Tips Help

If your bunion pain isn’t responding to at-home care, your podiatrist can talk to you about other non-surgical treatment options, including steroid injections. We will always try to find the least invasive option that works for you. Surgery may become an option if the bunion is very painful or distorts the foot too much to accommodate footwear.

You should see a doctor for an evaluation if you notice:

  • A bump on or near the joint
  • Difficulty moving your toes or feet
  • Pain that interferes with your daily activities
  • You can’t find shoes that fit because of the bunion

Need Help With Treating Bunions? Contact Us

If you have pain and swelling from a bunion, contact one of our eight offices for an assessment. Bunions don’t improve over time, but we can work with you to significantly reduce the pressure and pain. We will always look for the least invasive option that works for you before considering surgery.

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