Bunions Guide 2024: Causes, Symptoms, and Effective Treatment Options

Discover effective treatment and prevention strategies for bunions.

Updated on May 3, 2024

What is a bunion?

Bunions, or hallux valgus, are simply your toe bones out of their proper alignment. Contrary to how they might appear, bunions are not a separate “bump” or growth on your joint. Bunions can be genetically inherited and worsen through prolonged use of too-narrow footwear.

What causes bunions? A bunion develops when excessive pressure gets continually placed on the big toe or pinky toe joints, forcing them to push outward in unnatural—often painful—ways. Over time, this condition creates an angle in the joint where there should be a straight line, causing big toe pain, redness, and swelling—especially when you’re on your feet all day.

Although bunions can’t be cured on their own, they can be treated conservatively without bunion surgery by reducing the use of high heels or ill-fitting footwear, using bunion corrector alignment tools, and wearing wide-enough shoes to help bunions.

The best shoes for bunions allow for adequate space and cushion for these sensitive joints.

In addition to proper footwear, there are exercises that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with bunions. Marble pick up is a simple exercise that can strengthen the muscles in your feet and improve your toe alignment and bunion pain. Watch our video demonstration to learn how to do this exercise and add it to your bunion treatment plan.

  • Dive into expert tips and techniques in our guide to bunions prevention and relief.
Most Common Causes & Risk Factors for Developing Bunions
  • Flat Feet
    Flat feet can contribute to the development of bunions by altering the alignment of the foot, which can put pressure on the big toe joint and cause it to deform over time, resulting in big toe pain. Additionally, flat feet can cause the foot to overpronate, or roll inward, which can also contribute to the development of bunions. People with flat feet who wear shoes that do not provide adequate support or who engage in high-impact activities may be at a higher risk for developing bunions.
    Flat Feet
  • Overpronation
    Overpronation can contribute to the development of bunions by altering the alignment of the foot, which can put pressure on the big toe joint and cause it to deform over time. This can also cause the arch of the foot to collapse, leading to additional stress on the foot and ankle.
    Overpronation
  • Genetic Predisposition
    You are more likely to develop a bunion if a parent or grandparent had bunions (bunions can skip a generation).
    Genetic Predisposition
  • Muscular Imbalance
    Muscular imbalance occurs when some muscles in the foot are stronger or weaker than others, causing an imbalance in the forces applied to the foot. This can lead to an altered foot structure, which can put pressure on the big toe joint and cause it to deform over time. Additionally, muscle imbalances in the foot can contribute to overpronation or supination, which can also increase the risk of developing bunions.
    Muscular Imbalance
  • Ill-Fitting Footwear
    Consistently wearing shoes that are too tight can push on the big toe joint or little toe joints, contributing to misaligned bones and bunion pain.
    Ill-Fitting Footwear

Bunion Symptoms & Diagnosis

As with any medical condition, it is always best to make an appointment with your doctor to get a formal assessment and diagnosis of bunions.

That said, there are a few common symptoms people experience when suffering from bunions that might help you know when it’s time to visit the doctor:

  • Pain at the Big Toe or Pinky Toe Joint.
    One of the most common symptoms of bunions is pain at the big toe or pinky toe joint that can come and go. As the joints shift out of alignment, this change in position can cause pain and discomfort in the affected area, particularly when wearing shoes or engaging in physical activity. In some cases, the pain may be intermittent, with periods of relative comfort followed by bouts of sharp or achy pain. Over time, bunion pain may become more severe and persistent, particularly if the bunion continues to grow or is left untreated.
    Pain at the Big Toe or Pinky Toe Joint.
  • Redness or Swelling
    The shifting of toes toward the direction of other toes can lead to inflammation and irritation in the affected area, which can cause redness and swelling. In some cases, the affected joint may also feel warm or tender to the touch.
    Redness or Swelling
  • Pain While Walking
    Pain while walking, especially while wearing tight-fitting shoes, is a common symptom of bunions. The pressure from tight-fitting shoes can aggravate the bunion and cause additional pain and inflammation. In some cases, the pain may be so severe that it can limit your ability to walk or engage in physical activity.
    Pain While Walking
  • Increase in Size of the Toe Joints.
    As a bunion progresses, the big or little toe joints will get increasingly out of alignment, leading to an increase in size of the big or little toe joints.
    Increase in Size of the Toe Joints.
Shop bunion shoes from KURU today!

Bunion Treatment

Happy bunions are un-squozen bunions. These misaligned joints can get worse with too-narrow footwear, so the best shoes for people with bunions start with plenty of room for them.

Fortunately, there are various treatment options available, ranging from simple home remedies to surgical interventions. In this section, we’ll delve into the most effective treatments for bunions, helping you make an informed decision about the best approach for your situation.

  • Wear Shoes With Wide Toe Boxes
    Shoes with enough space in the toe box help relieve pressure on joints and allow toes to lay flat naturally, improving painful symptoms.
    Wear Shoes With Wide Toe Boxes
  • Use Bunion Corrector Tools
    Consider using bunion alignment devices when at rest. These over-the-counter tools will not correct your bunions, but they can help relieve pain in the moment.
    Use Bunion Corrector Tools
  • Perform Bunion Exercises
    Bunion exercises help strengthen your feet and improve muscular imbalances. Consult your doctor for exercises for your unique condition.
    Perform Bunion Exercises
  • Warm Soaks
    Immersing your feet in warm water with Epsom salts can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation associated with bunions.
    Warm Soaks
  • Massage
    Gently massaging the bunion area can improve circulation, reduce pain, and relieve tension in the surrounding muscles.
    Massage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Creams
    Topical creams or gels containing ingredients like ibuprofen can be applied directly to the bunion to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.
    Anti-Inflammatory Creams
  • Night Splints
    Wearing a bunion night splint can help realign the toe joint, reducing the size of the bunion over time.
    Night Splints

Bunion Exercises and Stretches

Bunions can be a source of discomfort, but with the right exercises and stretches, you can alleviate pain and improve foot function. Incorporating these routines into your daily life can not only provide relief but also strengthen the foot muscles and enhance joint mobility. 

Below, we’ll introduce a series of exercises and stretches specifically designed for those with bunions, aiming to offer a non-invasive approach to managing and potentially slowing their progression.

  • Toe Stretches.
    • Toe Flex and Point: Sit with legs extended. Flex your toes back towards your shin, then point them away. Repeat 10 times.
    • Toe Spreading: While seated, spread your toes apart as wide as possible. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.
  • Strengthening Exercises.
    • Towel Scrunch: Place a towel on the floor. Using only your toes, try to scrunch the towel toward you. Repeat 10 times.
    • Marble Pickup: Scatter some marbles on the floor. Using your toes, try to pick them up and place them in a container. Do this for 5 minutes.
  • Mobility Exercises. 
    • Big Toe Press: Gently press the big toe to the side until you feel a stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 5 times.
    • Ankle Circles: Rotate your ankle clockwise 10 times, then counterclockwise 10 times.
  • Resistance Exercises. 
    • Resisted Toe Abduction: Using a resistance band, loop it around both big toes. Spread your big toes apart against the resistance. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.
    • Resisted Toe Flexion: Loop a resistance band around the top of your foot. Press your toes down against the resistance. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.

Bunion Surgery or Other Procedures

For individuals with severe bunions that cause significant pain or mobility issues, conservative treatments might not always provide the desired relief. 

In such cases, surgical interventions and other procedures become viable options. These methods aim to correct the underlying foot deformity, alleviate pain, and restore normal function. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the surgical and procedural treatments available for bunions.

  • Ultrasound Therapy
    This non-invasive treatment uses sound waves to treat painful conditions and promote tissue healing.
    Ultrasound Therapy
  • Laser Therapy
    Low-level laser therapy can reduce pain and inflammation and speed up the healing process by stimulating cell function.
    Laser Therapy
  • Bunionectomy
    A bunion surgery which involves the bony prominence of the bunion being removed. It may be combined with an osteotomy if realignment is needed. Osteotomy. This procedure involves cutting and realigning the bones of the big toe. It’s one of the most common surgical treatments for bunions.
    Bunionectomy
  • Osteotomy
    This procedure involves cutting and realigning the bones of the big toe. It’s one of the most common surgical treatments for bunions.
    Osteotomy
  • Arthrodesis
    The affected joint’s bones are fused together. This is typically reserved for severe bunions or when previous surgeries have failed.
    Arthrodesis
  • Lapidus Procedure
    A fusion of the joint where the first metatarsal bone meets the midfoot, addressing the root cause of the bunion in certain cases.
    Lapidus Procedure
  • Tendon and Ligament Repair
    In some cases, the tendons and ligaments around the big toe might need adjustments to help align the toe better.
    Tendon and Ligament Repair

Bunion Prevention

Bunions, while common, can be a source of discomfort and pain for many. While genetics and foot structure play a role in their development, certain proactive measures can be taken to prevent or reduce the risk of bunions forming. 

Prioritizing foot health and being mindful of daily habits can make a significant difference. Below are some strategies to consider for bunion prevention:

  • Mind Your Footwear
    Opt for shoes that provide ample space in the toe box, avoiding narrow, tight-fitting shoes or high heels that push toes together.
    Mind Your Footwear
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight
    Excess weight can put additional pressure on your feet, increasing the risk of bunions.
    Maintain a Healthy Weight
  • Perform Foot Exercises
    Regularly practicing foot-strengthening exercises can help maintain the structural integrity of your feet.
    Perform Foot Exercises
  • Avoid Prolonged Standing
    If your job requires standing for extended periods, take breaks to rest your feet and change your standing position frequently.
    Avoid Prolonged Standing
  • Check Your Foot Posture
    Be mindful of how you stand. Rolling your feet inward (pronation) can increase the risk of bunions.
    Check Your Foot Posture

FAQs

  • What is a bunion?

    Bunions, or hallux valgus, are simply your toe bones out of their proper alignment. Contrary to how they might appear, bunions are not a separate “bump” or growth on your joint. Bunions can be genetically inherited and worsen through prolonged use of too-narrow footwear.

  • What causes bunions?

    A bunion develops when excessive pressure gets continually placed on the big toe or pinky toe joints, forcing them to push outward in unnatural—often painful—ways. Over time, this condition creates an angle in the joint where there should be a straight line, causing big toe pain, redness, and swelling—especially when you’re on your feet all day.

  • Is walking barefoot better for bunions?

    It’s always best to wear supportive footwear with foot pain conditions such as bunions. Proper footwear can help reduce pressure on sensitive joints, creating a healthy environment for healing.

  • What does a bunion feel like?

    One of the most common bunion symptoms is pain at the big toe or pinky toe joint that can come and go. As the joints shift out of alignment, this change in position can cause pain and discomfort in the affected area, particularly when wearing shoes or engaging in physical activity. Additional symptoms include redness and swelling, pain while walking, and increased size of the big toe or pinky toe joint.

  • How do you straighten a bunion?

    While a bunion cannot be completely straightened without surgery, wearing shoes with wide toe boxes, using bunion corrector tools, and performing consistent exercises can keep a bunion from worsening. Bunion surgery may be necessary in severe cases.

  • Are there specific exercises or stretches that can help with bunions?

    Yes! Regularly practicing foot-strengthening exercises can help maintain the structural integrity of your feet. See our Bunion Exercises and Stretches section above for some specific stretches and exercises you can add to your routine to help improve bunion pain.

Features to Look for in Shoes for Bunions

Living with bunions can be a challenge, especially when it comes to finding the right footwear. The wrong shoe can exacerbate pain and discomfort, while the right one can offer much-needed relief. 

When selecting footwear for bunions, it’s about prioritizing comfort and foot health. Below, we’ve outlined the essential features of an ideal shoe for bunions, ensuring health from the ground up.

  • Wide Toe Box
    Ample space in the front of the shoe ensures that the toes aren’t cramped, providing relief to the bunion area.
    Wide Toe Box
  • Soft, Flexible Upper
    Materials like soft leather or breathable fabric can mold to the foot’s shape, reducing pressure points on the bunion, which is an especially important feature to have in the best shoes after bunion surgery.
    Soft, Flexible Upper
  • Low or No Heel
    A flat or low-heeled shoe ensures that weight is distributed evenly, preventing excessive pressure on the front of the foot.
    Low or No Heel
  • Good Arch Support
    Proper arch support helps in distributing weight across the foot, offering relief to the bunion area.
    Good Arch Support
  • Shock-Absorbing Cushion
    A sole that can absorb impact reduces stress on the foot, especially when walking on hard surfaces.
    Shock-Absorbing Cushion
  • Breathable Material
    Shoes made of breathable materials like mesh or certain types of leather can prevent excessive sweating and provide comfort.
    Breathable Material

The Importance of the Right Fit

Finding the perfect pair of shoes when you have bunions can often feel like a daunting task. 

While aesthetics are important, comfort and support should be at the forefront of your decision-making process. Bunions require special attention and care, especially when it comes to footwear. 

To aid in your search, we’ve compiled a set of practical tips that focus on ensuring your feet feel as good as they look, even with bunions.

  • Shop in the Evening. Feet tend to swell as the day progresses. Shopping for shoes in the evening ensures a fit that remains comfortable throughout the day.
  • Test the Flex Point. The shoe’s flex point, where it bends, should align with the bending point of your foot. This ensures the shoe moves with your foot and doesn’t put undue pressure on the bunion.
  • Avoid Narrow Styles. Steer clear of shoes that taper dramatically towards the toe. Even if they fit initially, they can become uncomfortable with prolonged wear.
  • Prioritize Natural Materials. Natural materials like genuine leather tend to stretch and mold to the shape of your foot over time, offering a more personalized fit.
  • Check for a Deep Toe Box. A shoe with a deep toe box allows the top of your foot to have more space, reducing pressure on the bunion and the top of your toes.
  • Evaluate the Shoe’s Lining. A smooth and soft lining without rough seams or stitching can prevent irritation and friction against the bunion.
  • Use the “Thumb Test.” After putting on a shoe, press your thumb against the area where the bunion is. If you feel tightness or pressure, the shoe might not be the best choice for bunion comfort.

Three Layers of Support

Every step you take starts with your heels—and it can get painful, fast. In fact, 77% of Americans experience foot pain, with heel pain at the top of the list.*

 

That’s why at KURU, we believe health starts with heel. Our patented KURUSOLE technology dynamically flexes with each step to hug and protect your heels. This heels-first focus paves the way for holistic foot pain relief and whole-body wellness, so you can live a life you love.

Every pair comes built with three layers of pain-fighting technology:

  • 1

    KURUSOLE

  • 2

    KURUCLOUD

  • 3

    ULTIMATE INSOLE

  • How KURU brings relief

    KURUSOLE

    Our patented solution to heel pain relief, KURUSOLE technology dynamically flexes with each step to hug and protect your heels to help alleviate foot pain conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

Our Secret

Animated GIF showing KURUSOLE tech in KURU shoes vs. typical flat interiors for plantar fasciitis pain.
Why Others Love KURU

Why Others Love KURU

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Great for bunions. These are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. And they look cute, not like orthopedic shoes. This brand was recommended by my podiatrist because I have bunions. I can walk around in these shoes all day and my bunions don’t bother me. I am buying a second pair.

Karen G.

HALLELUJAH! I have problematic feet! They are narrow, very thin, and I have bunions. I also wear orthotics. I need a sneaker that has cushion AND support with a wide toe box. The Quantum is a dream come true! Finally, I’m getting everything I need!!”

PTRHON

Great shoe. Bought to help with bunions and general sore feet, so far so amazing! The orthotic insole molds quickly to your foot and helps immensely. I’m a mailman and walk over 10 miles a day so these are the perfect shoes for me!”

Johnny Cle

Most comfortable shoe ever. I bought this shoe a few weeks ago and walk between 6 and 7 miles a day on the weekends. I have bunions and flat feet and by the end of each day my feet do not hurt – this is unheard of with my other shoes.

MH

Love them. Great shoes for arch support and bunions, I have bought MBT shoes for years and now this looks like my go to shoe.”

TIM68

Perfect fit. I recently had bunion surgery and needed a slip on athletic shoe. These are perfect. I would’ve given them 5 stars if not for the color. I truly wish that Kuru would use more of the colors they use for men’s shoes, for women as well.”

Renee G.

Shop KURU shoes for bunions today!
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