Prevent a bunion from getting bigger

what is a bunionAn ugly problem with an ugly name—hallux valgus

Last summer I noticed I had the beginning of a small bunion.

Horrified, I wanted to find out if there was anything I could do to keep it from becoming bigger, uglier and more painful.

Anything except surgery. The last thing I want is foot surgery.

I also wanted to know how to prevent a bunion from developing in my other foot.

But I had to admit that I knew next to nothing about the lowly bunion, so I had to do a little research first.

Who gets bunions?

A bunion develops when, after years of stress, the bones of your big toe’s base joint shift out of alignment. This creates the classic bump.

A bunion can make walking, standing and wearing shoes extremely painful.

The biggest risk factors for developing a bunion are:

  • age (what doesn’t get worse with age?)
  • having flat feet (low or no arches)
  • having a history of wearing high-heels, poorly-fitting shoes or shoes with no arch support (like flip flops)
  • having a job that keeps you on your feet all day (like a nurse!)

Women typically develop bunions more than men because we are more likely to wear high-heels that scrunch our toes and put a lot of pressure onto the balls of our feet.

But men can get them, too. My brother had a severe bunion that required surgery (I saw the x-rays; it was bad!). He had a lot of complications with the surgery, including infection and pain, which is one reason why I want to avoid surgery.

Prevent bunions or treat them early

The best way to prevent bunions is to start young! If you have kids, make sure they always wear properly fitted shoes and teach them the importance of good footwear.

Don’t pass on to children that stupid saying “Beauty is pain.” Wrong. Pain is pain.

Other tips to prevent bunions are:

  • Avoid pointy-toed stilettos; they’re the worst!
  • When you buy shoes, ask that your feet be measured for size and width. Different shoe styles fit differently, but it’s a good place to start.
  • Especially if you are on your feet all day, look for shoes with a wide toe, good arch support, and a slight heel (1-1.5″). Keen brand shoes have been recommended to me.

Once a bunion has started forming, there is really nothing you can do to realign the bones. I’ve seen videos that claim you can, but you can’t.

And most bunions will get worse if you don’t change something about the mechanics around your foot, such as wearing proper shoes with enough arch support or doing exercises to strengthen your foot muscles.

Arch supports

Unfortunately, not a lot of research has been done on how well these conservative treatments help avoid surgery. I did find one study in the Cochrane database that said custom-made orthotics or arch supports can be useful in treating bunion pain.

Custom-made supports can be very expensive (up to several hundred dollars), and are usually ordered through podiatry offices or physical therapists.

There are some non-custom arch supports that are relatively inexpensive and worth trying first. The two brands recommended to me are Superfeet insoles and WalkFit arch supports. I use the WalkFits.

Foot exercises

I’ve been doing these exercises for the last year. I’m pleased that my bunion has not gotten any bigger, and the pain I was having—which was strangely a lot for such a minor bunion—is pretty infrequent  now.

I try to do these exercises with both feet once or twice a day. They don’t take long, and they don’t require any special equipment—just an old tennis ball. I can do them while sitting at my desk, standing in the kitchen or watching TV.

  • Stretch: Using your fingers, pull your big toe into proper alignment and hold for ten seconds. Repeat 4 times.
  • Flex: Point your toes straight ahead for 5 seconds and then curl your toes under for 5 seconds, as if you’re trying to grab something with your toes. Repeat 10 times.
  • Strengthen: While standing, squeeze a tennis ball between your ankles. Then raise up on the balls of your feet, keeping your ankles level. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
  • Massage: Place a tennis ball under your foot and roll it around for a few minutes.

If your bunions are more serious and you are considering surgery, here are some good resources for more information:


Frugal Nurse

Image source Creative Commons/CC BY 3.0



Prevent a bunion from getting bigger — 5 Comments

    • Hi Jane, thanks for leaving a comment. I’ve used spacers, too. I like the foam spacers that are used for pedicures. They’re inexpensive and fit comfortably under my socks or while sleeping. I’ve never tried YogaToes. My first thought, besides the cost, is that they are obviously too big to wear with shoes or while walking, so I’d only use them for a limited time every day. If cost was an issue, I’d try something cheaper first, like the pedicure separators and prioritize the arch supports. But what do you think of them? Do they help with the pain? Best, FN

  1. Thanks for this post, FN! I’ve had bunions a good part of my life and fit the profile: low arches, some time in high heels, female. I have small but wide feet so it’s tricky to find shoes that truly fit. Moderate to severe pronator, survivor of ‘orthopedic shoes’ in childhood; shoes that did nothing except embarrass me.

    I’ve had prescription orthotics (orthoses) for a number of years now, and they’ve helped with plantar fasciitis but they don’t work with all shoes. Super Feet, off the rack shoe inserts, have also helped.

    My feet are happiest in summer when I can wear my Chaco sandals. The straps leave my bunions free and happy. Of course I have to show them off, but I’m older and wiser now so I don’t give as much of a hoot about what anyone thinks.

    Keens work for me, as do Dansko, Brooks, some Munro and Clarks shoes.

      • Hi Kadoo! Thanks for sharing what products have worked for you. Quality shoes and inserts can be costly, but I think they are a good value overall as they last longer and keep our feet healthy. Cheers, FN