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A bunion is a bony protrusion at the base of the big toe that can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, especially while walking.
This bump occurs due to the dislocation of a bone or tissue in the big joint, which progressively pushes the affected toe toward the adjoining digits.
This closing in of the toes causes them to rub against one another during foot movement, which can trigger debilitating pain.
If you do not attend to the problem in time, the condition will continue to worsen.
Home Therapies to Reduce Bunion Pain
The following self-care measures and select home treatments may help reduce the symptoms to a manageable degree, but they are largely ineffective at fixing the actual deformity.
1. Apply ice
Overexertion of your feet due to prolonged walking, running, or simply standing can irritate your bunion and make it increasingly sore.
- You can try a bit of ice therapy to ease pain and inflammation. To make a cold compress, wrap some ice in a clean cloth or tea towel, or use a bag of frozen peas or other vegetables.
- Apply the cold compress to the forefront of the foot, just below the bunion area. Never apply ice directly to the toes, as it may result in frostbite to the digits.
- Do the ice application several times a day to help bring down the swelling and alleviate the discomfort.
Note: Direct application of ice can be harsh for your skin. People with sensitive skin also run the risk of developing frostbite with this method.
Icing the foot is a safe, simple, and cost-effective intervention that may help mitigate the symptomatic discomfort caused by bunions. It essentially entails the topical application of a cold compress to numb the affected area and provide pain relief.
2. Perform foot exercises
When done correctly and regularly, foot exercises may be beneficial in reducing the pain caused by bunions.
Because bunions often result from the lack of stability in your joints, ligaments, and tendons, exercising your foot can help make it structurally strong and secure.
Exercise #1 Toe-spread-out exercise
- While keeping your heel and the front of your foot firmly planted on the floor, raise your toes and spread them out.
- Push the little toe back down to the floor while keeping the rest of the toes lifted in the air.
- Force your big toe down, steering it toward the inside of the foot.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds, and then bring your foot to the resting position.
Exercise #2 Heel-raise exercise
- Stand on your bare feet while keeping your knees bent and heels turned in.
- Remaining in the same position, try to raise the arch of your foot as high as possible.
- Elevate the heel of the affected foot from the ground while exerting pressure on your bunion-ridden toe.
- Stay in this position for 5 seconds, and then relax.
Exercise #3 Short-foot exercise
- Form an arch in your foot while keeping your toes spread out straight and firmly grounded.
- Keep your heel planted on the floor as well.
- Make sure not to squeeze or curl your toes. (1)
- Hold this position for 5 seconds, and then relax.
Repeat each of these exercises several times, until your muscles feel completely exhausted.
Working out your toes may help impart greater flexibility to them. Foot exercises are complementary interventions that can help delay the progression of your bunion and save you from surgery.
Proper Foot Care for Pain Relief
Here are a few measures to ease bunion pain:
- Take OTC analgesics, such as Advil and Aleve, to reduce the pain.
- If you have an inflamed bunion, elevate your foot to help bring down the swelling and pain. Keep the affected foot in a raised position for 15 minutes every other hour.
- Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce the overall pressure on your feet.
- Do some overnight therapy by wearing a splint to realign the toe, and hold it in place while you sleep.
- Bunions tend to be worse in people with flat feet. To correct this anatomical abnormality, use arch supports that are easily available at local pharmacies and do not require a prescription.
- Use a toe spacer to separate the overgrown or deformed big toe from the adjoining one. This kind of cushioning will help realign your foot structure and keep the pressure off the toe for ease of movement.
- Gently massage the area around the bunion with olive oil. This topical stimulation can improve blood circulation, reduce pressure, and ease the pain to some degree, but it is unlikely to cure the structural deformity.
Shoes for Bunions
The right kind of footwear can help reduce the discomfort caused by a bunion and keep it from worsening.
If you have a bunion, here are a few points that you should keep in mind when you go shoe shopping:
- Make sure that the shoes have extra room in the toe box for the bony protrusion and a well-built heel counter to keep the back of your foot in place.
- High-heeled footwear is not for you, as it will only exert added pressure on the big toe. Keep the heel height within an inch, at most.
- If you have your heart set on a pair of shoes that have a narrow front, you can have the shoe stretched to expand the toe space so that there is enough space for the bunion.
- Look for shoes with a wide rubber sole that can provide extra support to your feet.
- In addition to the design, the fabric of the shoe must also be taken into consideration. Wear shoes that are made of comfortable material.
- To keep your foot from sliding forward and straining the big toe further, it may help to wear shoes with a strap or lace over the instep that can tighten the foot in place.
- Open sandals will allow your feet to breathe. Athletic shoes and shoes made from soft leather are also good options.
Most-Asked Questions About Bunions
Are there other foot conditions that can be confused with bunions?
The following conditions share many common features with bunions but are essentially different:
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that produces symptoms similar to those of bunions, including pain, inflammation, and redness, but the cause is different.
Bunions are the result of various ambiguous factors, including genes, improper footwear, and overexertion of the foot, but gout is caused by excessive uric acid in the blood, which ultimately forms urate crystals in the joint.
While bunions are limited to the foot, gout can affect any joint in the body, but it mostly targets the big toe.
2. Ganglion cysts
Ganglion cysts are small fluid-filled cysts that physically resemble bunions but are not as firm or rigid to touch.
To tell the two apart, you simply have to press on the lumpy protrusion on your big toe. If it subsides under pressure, the bump is most likely a ganglion cyst.
Are stretching exercises and massages helpful in treating bunions?
Yes, they can help relieve the strain and discomfort from the bunion deformity.
Bunion pain can usually be managed through proper footwear, exercises, and home therapies designed to take the pressure off your big toe.
But if the pain persists despite self-treatment, consult a podiatrist before the toe becomes even more deformed, large, or painful. Severe cases of bunions can be intensely painful and keep you from performing even the simplest of tasks.
This deformity can render you unable to walk or stand without experiencing excruciating pain. The doctor will start with non-surgical interventions to relieve the pain, but surgery is the only option if the toe becomes severely deformed.