Bunions can be a real pain. Not only do they cause a lot of discomfort, but they also interrupt day-to-day functions and interfere with the activities you enjoy.
Fortunately, there are lifestyle modifications and exercises that can help ease your symptoms and prevent future bunions.
Here are 10 easy-to-do foot exercises that can help relieve pain, increase mobility, and possibly slow the progression of your bunion.
Whether you’re in the midst of pain from a bunion or you’re trying to prevent one from forming, performing regular exercises designed for both treatment and prevention can help keep your feet healthy and, hopefully, free from surgery.
1. Toe points and curls
This works on your toe joints by flexing the muscles under your feet.
Sit on a surface with your feet about 6 inches away from the floor. Point and curl your toes slowly. Do this for 20 reps for 2 to 3 sets.
2. Toe spread-outs
While sitting, place your foot on the floor. With your heel fixed to the ground, lift and spread your toes. Repeat this exercise 10 to 20 times on each foot.
3. Toe circles
This mobilizes the joints in your toe and helps to reduce stiffness.
While sitting on a chair, lean over and grip your big toe. Begin circling the toe clockwise, 20 times. Stop and reverse the direction for another 20 circles. Complete 2 to 3 sets on each toe.
4. Assisted toe abduction with exercise band
Wrap an exercise band around both of your big toes. With the band tight, pull both big toes away from the other toes with a small exercise band. When fully extended, hold for 5 seconds, then release and repeat the motion for 20 reps.
5. Ball roll
Place a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor and put your foot on top. Roll your foot back and forth over the ball. Repeat this motion for 3 to 5 minutes on each foot, even if the bunion is only on one foot.
6. Towel grip and pull
Place a small towel or washcloth on the floor. Sit down and grip the towel with your toes and pull it towards you. Only use your toes to scrunch the towel. Repeat this motion for up to 5 minutes.
7. Marble pickup
For this exercise, you’ll need a bowl and 10 to 20 marbles. Place the marbles on the floor and put the bowl close by. Sit on a surface with your feet close to the ground. With your toes, pick up each marble and place it in a bowl. Make sure to grip your toe around the marble.
8. Figure eight rotation
This exercise is similar to the toe circle, but you’ll move your toe in a figure eight motion rather than a circle. This helps with flexibility and range of motion. Repeat 10 times on each toe for 2 to 3 sets.
9. Barefoot beach walking
This exercise depends on your location. If you have a beach nearby, give this exercise a try by walking barefoot in the sand. It will feel like a foot massage while also helping to strengthen the muscles in your feet and toes.
10. Heel raise
While sitting, place your foot flat on the floor. Lift your heel and put most of the weight toward the outside of the ball of your foot. Hold for 5 seconds and return to the floor. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
After surgery, it’s essential to follow your doctor’s instructions for care. Be sure to perform any rehab exercises they recommend during your recovery period. This is especially important since not all bunion surgeries are the same.
“Some include correction of the soft tissue, bone, or both, and the postoperative course and rehab depends on the type of surgery and surgeon’s preference,” explains Dr. Kenneth Jung, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
In general, Jung says flexion and extension of the joint must be restored to maximize function.
“Toe curls with a towel and picking up marbles are often performed in physical therapy,” he explains. Additionally, a therapist will perform soft tissue mobilization and range of motion stretching. The duration of postsurgery exercises ranges from six to eight weeks.
For many people, bunion surgery isn’t necessary. However, finding relief in at-home remedies is important.
The good news is, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) products you can try and lifestyle modifications you can follow to relieve the symptoms of bunions.
- OTC pain relief. The first line of defense for many people involves the use of an OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen which also aids in pain management.
- Wear proper-fitting shoes. Not far behind OTC pain relief is choosing and wearing proper footwear. This means shoes that fit properly and are wide in the toe area and have a low heel.
- Protect the area. To avoid rubbing and irritation, you can buy OTC pads that are typically filled with gel to cover the bunion.
- Shoe inserts. Some doctors will recommend padded shoe inserts that can help distribute pressure as you walk. This may prevent your bunion from getting worse.
- Cold therapy. If you’ve been on your feet a lot or you experience inflammation and irritation of the bunion, icing the area can help relieve pain.
- Soaking therapy. At the end of a long day, treat your feet to a warm water soak with Epsom salt. This can help reduce inflammation and pain.
If you’re not getting any relief from at-home remedies, it might be time to see a doctor. They can help you decide if surgery is an option, especially if nonsurgical treatments aren’t working.
The main goal of surgery is to relieve the pain. Surgical options also aim to restore normal functioning of the toe so you can get back to the activities you enjoy and minimize the chance of recurrence.
Doctors have a variety of surgical options to return the toe to its normal position. They typically base their decision on the severity of the bunion.
Jung says that bone prominence and pain typically mean surgery is needed. Since many factors go into selecting the proper procedure, you should always consult with a doctor.
More complicated situations may require a doctor to cut the bone and realign the joint, which is referred to as an osteotomy.
If you have severe arthritis along with a stubborn bunion, your doctor may perform an arthrodesis. During this procedure, the arthritic joint surfaces are removed. The doctor then inserts screws, wires, or plates to hold everything in place during the healing process.
Over 64 million people will experience a bunion. If you’re part of this group, then you know all too well that finding ways to reduce pain and prevent future bunions is a priority.
With some basic lifestyle modifications — such as wearing shoes that fit properly — and a few simple toe exercises, you can relieve pain, slow the progression of your bunion, and possibly keep future bunions away.