Bunions — those bony bumps on the inside of your foot, at the joint of your big toe — can be painful. They’re often caused by our shoe choices, and continuing to wear the wrong shoes can make these bony projections grow bigger and more painful. Once you have a bunion, your shoe choice becomes even more important.

The bump forms when the bones that make up your big toe joint shift out of alignment. This can be caused by narrow or pointed shoes that squeeze your toes together. The bunion can make the big toe stiff and put pressure on your other toes, which can make it hard to walk. Eventually, the pressure can cause the other toes on that foot to bend as well.

The bulge of a bunion and the new shape of your feet can make your shoes more uncomfortable. Tight or narrow-toed shoes will be especially painful because they squeeze against the bunion.

Ask your doctor or podiatrist about special shoes for people with bunions. Wearing the right shoes can keep your feet comfortable and stop the bunion from getting worse.

If the bunion is small, a comfortable shoe with a roomy toe might be all you need. The shoe should be low-heeled (less than 1 or 2 inches), with enough space to fit your toes comfortably. You might have to go up a half size or more to get the right fit.

You might also want to buy a shoe with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of added depth. The extra depth gives your foot more space, which can accommodate any calluses or corns you might have on the bottom of your foot. You’ll also have space to add an insert, which supports your foot. If the bunion has left your foot very deformed, ask your podiatrist about having shoes custom-made.

Instead of buying new shoes, you might be able to modify shoes you already have. A shoe store can use a stretcher to widen the toe area of your shoes and give you a better fit. You can also add orthotics. These inserts relieve pressure on your feet and make them more comfortable.

First, visit your primary care doctor or podiatrist. The doctor will examine your bunion and recommend the right shoe.

You should be able to buy comfortable, roomy shoes at any shoe store. Many companies make shoes wide and soft enough to accommodate bunions, including The Walking Company, Orthofeet, and FootSmart. Extra-depth shoes are available in specialty shoe stores and online. If you need a custom-fitted shoe, you’ll see a specialist called an orthotist.

Medicare will cover the cost of one customized pair of shoes, including the fitting, each year. They’ll also pay for three pairs of inserts for extra-depth shoes.

Finding the right shoe is important if you have bunions. Always choose function over fashion. The shoe should have a wide enough front to comfortably fit all of your toes, and a soft sole to cushion each step.

Buy shoes made from a stretchy material, such as leather or canvas. Look for adjustable shoes with laces or a strap that you can loosen to accommodate changes in the size of your feet or bunion over time.

Avoid shoes that are pointed, narrow, or tight. You should also stay away from heels that are higher than 2 inches.

Once you have the right shoes, add one or more of the following accessories to increase your comfort.

Bunion pads: Place a moleskin, felt, or gel-filled pad over the bunion to act as a cushion. The pad will prevent your bunion from rubbing against your shoe and becoming irritated. You can buy bunion pads at your local drugstore.

Orthotics: Placing an insert inside your shoe will put your foot in a more comfortable position and relieve pressure on it. You can buy orthotics with a prescription from your podiatrist, or over the counter at a pharmacy.

Toe spacer: A silicone toe spacer placed between your big toe and second toe will help keep your toes in the proper alignment.

Arch support: Often people with bunions have flat feet and an unstable arch. Your arch is the curved area on the bottom of your foot. Over-the-counter arch supports can help correct this problem and put your feet in a more natural alignment. You can buy them over the counter or with a prescription from your doctor.

Thin, loose socks: Avoid thick or tight socks. They’ll put pressure on your bunion and cause even more pain.

Once you have the right shoe, make sure it fits. A well-fitting shoe won’t press on or rub against your bunion.

If you continue to wear uncomfortable shoes, the bunion can get bigger. You can also develop one of these complications:

  • bursitis: swelling of the fluid-filled sacs called bursa, which act as cushioning between your bones
  • hammer toe: toes that bend at the middle joint, causing pain
  • metatarsalgia: pain and swelling in the ball of your foot

Once you have a bunion, it won’t go away unless you have surgery. Prevent it from getting larger by taking good care of your feet and wearing the right shoes.