What is a bunion?
A bunion is a bony growth that forms on or around the joint of your big toe. Growth and swelling occur when a bunion first forms. Then, bone displacements begin to pull the big toe towards the others, causing pain, redness, and discomfort.
Similar irritation and swelling can be found on the little toe, which is known as a bunionette.
How do bunions form?
Bunions form when the bone and joints of your big toe move out of place and protrude outwards over time.
It’s not known exactly what causes bunions. While most cases are hereditary, it’s thought that wearing tight, narrow shoes can contribute to the problem or exacerbate an underlying issue.
Top Bunion Exercises
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. Complete 20 reps for 2 to 3 sets.
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.
While sitting on a chair, lean over and grasp 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.
Place a tennis or palm-sized ball on the floor and place your foot on top. Roll your foot back and forth over the ball while applying light pressure downwards. Repeat this motion for 3- to 5-minutes on each foot, even if you have a bunion only on one foot.
This exercise is similar to toe circles, 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.
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.
This involves challenging the joints with a manageable amount of resistance to correct any movement. Using a towel, belt or even specialised resistance bands, wrap your problem toe and pull with a light, comfortable force. Hold the resistance for 10 seconds, rest and repeat anywhere from 5-10 more times.
A walk in the sand
Depending on your location, a stroll on the beach can provide relief. Walking on loose surfaces like sand help strengthen joints in the feet naturally, as it requires more effort to stabilise yourself. It can also act as a massage to help soothe particularly painful or inflamed bunions.
Picking up marbles
Picking up items with your feet improves the dexterity of your toes and can relax the joints and tendons. The exercise can also help people get comfortable moving their joints.
Scatter some marbles – or other small balls or objects – and place a bowl alongside. Then, grab the items using your feet and place them into the bowl. Make sure you grip the affected toe(s) around the ball to get the full benefit of the exercise.
Towel grip and pull
While sitting, lay a towel out in front of you. Similarly to the marble exercise, the aim is to scrunch up the towel using nothing other than your toes. The exertion of the muscles and tendons helps strengthen them without the potential discomfort experienced with resistance bands.
Treatment for bunions
Unfortunately, bunions don’t go away on their own – and, usually, the problem worsens over time. However, with the help of conservative and surgical treatments, you can relieve some of the discomfort.
To ease the pain of a developing bunion, you can:
• Change your shoes – Avoiding narrow shoes and opting for padded, ergonomic solutions can help ease discomfort when you’re on your feet.
• Ice for inflammation – When bunions become red, irritated and particularly painful, ice or cold treatments and therapies can help ease soreness.
• Medication – Effective pain relief can be found in medical cortisone injections or strong painkillers like acetaminophen. Taking these regularly can make day-to-day pain easier to manage. Consult your doctor before seeking any medical relief.
• Shoe inserts – Using additional padding or an ergonomic sole to cushion the area helps relieve pressure on the bunion and eases pain.
If your bunion is already too large and painful, a bunionectomy or alternative surgery might be the only option for long-term, effective pain relief. If no home treatments are remedying the problem, get in touch with your doctor.
Post-surgery bunion exercises
Bunion surgery is a delicate procedure with an extensive 6–12-week recovery time. And you’ll need to gently exercise the area to regain strength and flexibility in the toe.
Gentle exercises like picking up marbles and the ‘towel grip and pull’ are crucial for regaining the full range of movement.
If you’re looking to push your recovery that bit further, try:
• Sitting cross-legged.
• Holding the foot in your hand, gently move your toes up and down.
• With your index finger, apply force to the middle of each toe as you lift it, one at a time, and hold for 3-5 seconds.
• The resistance should help strengthen the surrounding tendons and muscles after the trauma of surgery.
The benefits of foot exercises for bunions
Even if you don’t currently have one, regular exercises for bunions can reduce the likelihood of them appearing. Nobody wants surgery, so you always want to begin with home remedies to stop bunions from appearing or the condition worsening.
They can also:
• Improve toe dexterity and foot strength
• Ease pain and discomfort
•Improving the quality of your day-to-day life
Can you correct bunions with exercise?
Unfortunately, you cannot fully reverse or correct bunions with exercise. Bunions are often hereditary or possibly caused by ill-fitting footwear, over time.
However, the growth of bunions can be slowed – and pain and discomfort relieved – with regular exercise and treatments. Large and intrusive bunions will likely have to be removed surgically, though, to regain a full range of movement and prevent pain.
Staying active is the best way to condition and strengthen your feet. There are specific exercises like toe curls and marble pick-ups that can help. But, it’s also important to know that rest is just as important as exercise for managing your bunion pain. You may have to give your feet breaks and change certain activities to get relief from your symptoms. To give your feet both the rest and the exercise they need, stay as active as you can without causing yourself pain. This may mean exercising your feet by themselves, or doing activities that take pressure off them, like swimming.
Remember to be patient with exercise treatments. It likely took a long period of time for your bunion to develop, and that change will not be reversed overnight. While some people may notice relief from pain right away, it could take weeks or even months to see the difference.
Is walking good for bunions?
If bunions are causing pain, don't give up exercise. Instead, switch to activities that don't cause pain. Swimming or bicycling are good choices because they put less pressure on the foot. Walking may be a good substitute for jogging while you treat a bunion. When you’re walking, cushion the bunion and the area around it.
To ensure you are getting the right shoes, follow these tips:
- Avoid footwear that crowds the toes and puts excess pressure on the joints.
- Shoes should have wide and deep toe boxes with good arch support and flatter heels. Athletic shoes and supportive sandals are best. Avoid flip-flops and slipper styles that cause the feet to pronate when walking.
- Stay away from shoes that cause your feet to slide forward since you’ll eventually damage your toes as they hit the inside of the shoe.
- Have your feet measured each time you shop to ensure you are getting the correct size.
Wearing comfortable, spacious athletic shoes that give your toes plenty of room will help you stay active. For both men and women, men's shoes are a good choice because they have wider toe boxes. Apply ice to the bunion and elevate your foot after exercise if it has caused pain. This will help reduce the inflammation.
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