The Best Methods for Treating Your Bunion Pain

A bunion is a bony prominence at the inside of the big toe, which is the result of a structural malalignment of the big toe joint. In addition to a lump, the bunion causes the big toe to point inward and overlap with the toe next to it. Bunions may be considered unsightly by some people, and they can become painful over time.

Feet with Bunions
bgwalker / Getty Images

Physical symptoms of bunions can include:

  • Restricted, painful motion of the big toe
  • Redness over the boney prominence
  • Swelling
  • Calluses (hardened skin)
  • Impaired balance
  • Altered gait (manner of walking)

When you have a bunion, it can be hard to find shoes that fit right. Bunion pain can significantly impact your ability to do even simple activities.

While bunion surgery is an option, there are many less invasive treatment options you can try first. Some treatments are aimed at alleviating the symptoms, whereas others are focused on getting rid of the bunion.

Foot Exercises

Foot and ankle exercises can help correct a muscle imbalance around the joint, which may be either a result of the bunion or contribute to the cause of it. Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy or give you exercises to do at home.

Bunion exercises are broken down into two types:

  1. Muscle-strengthening to get and keep the joint in alignment
  2. Range-of-motion to keep the joint supple and mobile

Examples of foot exercises include curling the toes, spreading the toes, and heel raises.

Pain Medication

When bunions become painful, oral or injected pain medications may alleviate the pain and lessen inflammation.

  • Oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) may be useful when bunions are associated with pain, swelling, or redness.
  • Injection of corticosteroid medications is another option. Research shows that it can be effective against bunion pain.

Bunion Pads and Splints

Bunion pads and splints are readily available devices that are placed on the foot to treat the symptoms of bunions, and sometimes they can help reduce structural malalignment.

They work differently:

  • Bunion pads provide a layer of cushion for the bunion against the shoe to lessen or remove pressure and irritation. They can work well for relieving pain. However, if they are too thick, that can increase the pressure.
  • Bunion splints are intended to actively push the big toe into better alignment. However, a review of studies on bunion treatment found that splints were ineffective both at relieving pain and realigning the joint.

Foot Orthotics

Shoe inserts are another method to help treat bunions by providing structural support to the foot, which may improve foot alignment and ultimately limit bunion progression.

A healthcare provider can create prescription orthotics for you.

Research shows orthotics can be somewhat effective when combined with other treatments. On their own, they are generally inadequate and should be combined with other treatments.

Bunion Surgery

The only method to truly correct a bunion is bunion surgery, which structurally re-aligns the displaced bones.

The procedure most often involves either:

  • A bunion cut to realign the top (Austin or chevron bunionectomy) or bottom portion of the bone
  • Repositioning the entire bone by realigning then fusing the joints around the big toe, either at the ball of the great toe joint (first MTP joint) or at the joint at the base of the first metatarsal (first TMT Joint)

Depending on your type of surgery, you may need to wear dressings or a brace for six to twelve weeks after the procedure. Some surgeries allow for immediate weight-bearing afterward, while with others, you may need to use crutches.

Be sure to ask any questions you may have to ensure you understand and are able to follow your surgeon's instructions during your recovery process.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Bunions.

  6. Grice J, Marsland D, Smith G, Calder J. Efficacy of foot and ankle corticosteroid injectionsFoot Ankle Int. 38(1):8–13. doi:10.1177/1071100716670160

  7. Park CH, Chang MC. Forefoot disorders and conservative treatmentYeungnam Univ J Med. 36(2):92–98. doi:10.12701/yujm.2019.00185

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  10. The Bunion Institute. What type of bunion surgery might be right for you?

By Neal Blitz, DPM, FACFAS
 Neal Blitz, DPM, FACFAS, is a board-certified doctor of podiatric medicine and creator of the Bunionplasty procedure.