If the base of your great toe becomes painfully swollen, you may have a bunion (aka: Hallux valgus). If the tissue or bone of the largest big toe joint becomes displaced, a bunion is likely to form. This displacement may be caused by pressure and/or uneven gait which forces the big toe toward the other toes.
When you walk, the big toe joint bears a great deal of weight. If this joint develops a bunion, it may become very stiff, sore and painful. You may find it hard to tolerate the pressure of your shoes on the joint, and you may find it difficult to walk.
Shoes that fit improperly or force the feet into an unnatural position very often cause bunions. If your shoes squeeze your toes, force them to point inward and cause you to bear an excessive amount of weight on the balls of your feet (e.g. if you wear high heels) you are very likely to develop a bunion.
The same is true of men’s footwear that is too tight and/or too pointy-toed (e.g. wingtips or cowboy boots). Poorly fitted shoes force the big toe out of alignment, damage the foot’s tendons and muscles and cause generalized foot fatigue and pain.
Heredity Also Plays a Part
Poorly fitted shoes are not the only cause of bunions. There is also a genetic factor. If flat feet and other foot problems run in your family, you may be predisposed to developing them yourself; however, you are not doomed to do so. If you take care of yourself, wear properly fitted, high-quality footwear and take proactive steps to keep your joints flexible, you may be able to avoid developing bunions altogether.
Even if you do develop bunions, these positive actions will help mitigate the damage and make it easier to live with bunions with little or no pain.
If you think you are developing a bunion or are worried about it, see your general practitioner. He or she can evaluate the situation and make good recommendations. This may include a referral to a physical therapist and/or a podiatrist (foot doctor).
Can You Cure A Bunion Without Surgery?
Unfortunately, once a bunion develops it’s permanent. Still, there are things you can do to minimize the pain and swelling associated with this problem. Here are nine smart ideas:
1. Your top priority should be attaining properly fitted footwear. Look for shoes with low heels, good support and lots of space in the forefoot and in the toe box. Your podiatrist can provide you with good recommendations.
2. Developing a healthy lifestyle along with good foot care habits can also help. Watch your weight. Be sure to eat right and exercise regularly for complete, overall health and fitness.
3. Baby your bunion. If it is painful to the touch, keep it covered with a moleskin or gel-filled over-the-counter (OTC) bunion pad.
4. Use orthotic devices. Talk with your podiatrist about shoe inserts to provide your feet with proper support. Both OTC and prescription orthotics are helpful.
5. Use a night splint. With doctor’s supervision, try wearing a night splint to hold your toe in the right position while you sleep. This can help ease pain and pressure on the joint.
6. Use OTC anti-inflammatory meds to ease pain and reduce swelling.
7. Pamper your feet. Be sure to partake of little luxuries such as massage, foot spa and ice or heat packs to relieve pain and provide comfort.
8. Purchase your shoes at a good, old-fashioned shoe store. Ask your podiatrist to recommend a store where staff actually know something about the product and will measure your feet for a proper fit.
9. Separate your toes. Try sitting with your fingers interlaced between your toes while watching television, reading, relaxing or meditating. This can be very helpful in soothing pain and realigning your toes.
What About Toe Spacers?
Consistent use of toe spacers can help alleviate pain. Toe spacers are available as rubbery devices which you can wear while bathing or relaxing. They hold the toes in a separated position and can provide quite a bit of relief from pain. There are also toe separator socks that can be worn overnight to help relieve pain. You cannot use toe spacers or toe spacer socks while standing as this is quite uncomfortable and could injure your feet.
While these devices do help with the pain, they will not cure your problem. Some podiatrists compare them with eyeglasses. They work while you are wearing them. This fact should not prevent you from trying toe spacers any more than it would prevent you from wearing eyeglasses!
Is It Worthwhile To Do Bunion Healing Exercises?
Although the official word from doctors and podiatrists is that bunions are incurable, there are quite a few people who say that they have resolved bunion issues with consistent DIY treatments such as infrared heat, orthotics, exercise and massage.
All of these things will certainly help resolve pain, and it may be that with very consistent use, you may see some improvement in your bunion. Either way, it cannot hurt to take good care of your feet and engage in relaxation, along with strengthening exercises.
Here are a dozen exercises for you to try:
1. Keep your toes moving. You’ll need shoes with a roomy toe box for this! Whenever you have to stand in one place for a while, take the opportunity to flex and curl your toes. Keeping your toes in motion will improve blood circulation and keeps your joints, ligaments and tendons flexible.
2. Try flexing your toes individually. Give your toes an even greater challenge by curling, flexing and lifting them one at a time or in odd combinations. For example, try to keep your middle toes down while lifting and flexing your pinky toe and your great toe.
3. While seated and barefoot focus on pressing the balls of your feet and the inner portion of your heels into the floor while lifting all of your toes and the arch of your foot. Raise your arch and your toes as high as you can. You’ll feel a stretch in your bunion. Hold for five seconds and release. Repeat 5-10 times.
4. Add a little challenge to exercise #3 by attempting to press only your great toes and pinky toes into the floor while holding the middle toes up and maintaining the lift of your arch.
5. If you regularly practice yoga, try incorporating these toe exercises (1-4) into standing poses, such as warrior, triangle, half-moon and side-angle pose. Other poses that are conducive to adding bunion exercise include downward facing dog, upward facing dog and cobra.
6. Walk barefoot in wet sand to help exercise and realign your foot bones. If wet sand is not available, look for a foot massage mat. These are available in a wide variety of textures and designs from hard pebbles to soft nubs to help exercise and massage your feet and stimulate good circulation with just a daily stroll.
7. Strengthen and stretch your tendons and make your ankles stronger by squeezing a tennis ball between your ankles while standing. Once you have the ball securely in place, lift your heels so that you are balancing on the balls of the feet. Hold for 30 seconds and return slowly to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times.
8. Roll a rubber ball, tennis ball or knobby foot exercise ball under your feet. This is easy to do while relaxing and provides a good, soothing massage to the soles of your feet.
9. Stretch and massage your toes and feet. At least once a day give yourself a good foot massage with lotion. Bedtime is a great time for this. Massage the soles of your feet deeply with your thumbs. Pull on your toes and use your fingers to move them in circles to help keep the joints flexible. Massage between the toe bones on the top of the foot to help relieve tension and separate the toes.
10. Use a resistance band or strong, thick rubber band to give your great toes some resistance training. Line your bare feet up parallel, about an inch apart and loop a thick rubber band or resistance band around the two great toes. Slowly and steadily separate your feet to the maximum resistance level you can comfortably tolerate, then slowly and steadily move them back together. Do three sets of ten, once or twice a day.
11. Pick things up with your toes. Build up strength in your toes by giving them some work to do. Gather a collection of things to pick up with your toes. Examples include dice, marbles, pecans, dry beans or any small objects that would present a challenge. Objects of varying sizes, shapes and textures will present more challenge. Just gather your little objects in a container such as a plastic food storage bowl. Spill them onto the floor in front of your chair and then use your toes to pick them up and put them back in the container.
12. Scrunch a towel with your toes. Lay a hand towel on the floor. Take care not to leave any wrinkles. Use your bare toes to scrunch the towel into a ball. It’s important to only use your toes. Anchor your heel to the floor and just wad the towel up into a ball with your toes. If this begins to become too easy, add challenge by placing a weight on the towel.
Be Consistent And Holistic
For best results, you must establish a regular schedule of exercise for your feet and your entire body. Take good care of yourself every day by eating a balanced, whole foods diet, enjoying regular light-to-moderate exercise and wearing good quality, well-fitted shoes.
If you make an honest and regular effort, you should experience immediate pain relief from some aspects of your efforts and ongoing improvement in the long term. If you do not experience relief in a reasonable amount of time, talk with your doctor or podiatrist about the possibility of bunion surgery.