Bunions are bony protrusions that form on the outer edge of the big toe joint. If left unchecked, a bunion can progressively push the surrounding bones. This can create a hammertoe, push the second toe out of alignment, and even increase your chances of developing bursitis or other painful foot problems. In some extreme cases, you may need bunion surgery to regain proper walking gait!
The good news is that it can take years for a bunion to get that bad. The bad news? There’s no single cause of bunions, so there’s also no single action you can take to ensure you’ll never get them. And yet, there’s so much you can do to prevent a bunion!
Are you at high risk for bunions?
If you’re at high risk for bunions, knowing how to prevent bunions in the first place can win you decades of healthy, pain-free feet.
The most important risk factors for developing bunions are:
- Having a family history of bunions – especially if your first-degree relatives also have them.
- Suffering from diabetic foot complications, which weaken the joints and muscles in your feet.
- Being overweight, as this puts extra pressure on your toe joints and ligaments.
- Spending many hours a day on your feet, for example, at work.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (or a family history of RA).
- Flat feet.
If you fall within any of these categories, you must be extra careful with your foot and ankle protection plan. Once that bony bump appears, you will also be at a higher risk of seeing it grow quickly.
How do you prevent bunions?
In short, the road to avoiding bunions is addressing as many risk factors as you can. You can’t really do anything about your family history, and switching jobs is easier said than done. So, how can you prevent a bunion?
The strategies below are easy enough to implement without medical assistance. However, a quick visit with University Foot & Ankle Institute’s bunion experts can still put you more firmly on the path to healthy feet.
Lifestyle adjustments for preventing a bunion
The most important lifestyle adjustment you can do to prevent bunions is to watch your fitness levels.
This goes beyond just losing weight. Protecting your overall health and fitness can keep your feet healthy and bunion-free. Ways to protect your feet include:
- Strength training (even mild weightlifting or resistance training) will also strengthen your joints and prevent or slow the formation of bunions.
- There’s some evidence that an anti-inflammatory diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, but with less refined grains or fatty meats) can lower your chances of joint conditions in general.
- If diabetes also runs in your family, keep an eye out for your blood sugar levels. Poor circulation in your feet caused by unchecked blood glucose can damage your joints.
Now, the tips above will help you lower the damage your toes suffer from day-to-day life. But if your job forces you to be standing for hours on end — think nurses, postal workers, teachers, or retail — then take it to the next level by:
- Taking short sitting breaks every hour.
- Wearing split-toe bunion socks (a special type of compression sock that keeps the toes in place) or gel inserts.
- Ensuring your feet have time to recover at the end of the day.
- Avoid wearing narrow shoes, high heels, or pointy shoes on a regular basis.
- Booking regular foot massages.
- Keeping track of your feet shape by tracing their outline on a piece of paper, at least once every six months.
- Finally, if you notice anything odd (such as frequent blisters or corns at the base of the big toe), visit our podiatrists for an evaluation.
Best shoes to prevent bunions
In our society, shoes are pretty much mandatory in all public places. Chances are, your feet spend more time inside a shoe than out – and if you wear shoes that compress, squeeze, or push your toes, you’ll be increasing your bunion risk dramatically.
But this goes further than simply avoiding pointy, tight shoes or high heels. If you want to help your feet stay in tip-top shape, you should also look for shoes with:
- Enough room in all directions — make sure you walk in them a bit while trying shoes to get the right size.
- A wide toe box, where neither big toe nor pinky toe are pressing against anything.
- A “low drop” – that is, a difference of less than 12 mm between the heel and the toe pad.
- Extra arch support, if you suffer from flat feet.
Exercises for bunion prevention
Just like everywhere else, the bones in your feet are partly held in place by the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Therefore, you can help your big toe stay in place by strengthening the muscles around the joint.
You can do this by:
- Trying to pick up round pebbles or marbles with your toes.
- Toe spread-outs: sit with your feet on the floor and try to lift and spread your toes as much as you can.
- Towel grips: roll up a towel on the floor, and then try to pick up the ends of it by bending your toes
- Walking barefoot whenever you get the chance (at home or the beach, for example).
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What happens if you already have a bunion?
Not all is lost! Will the bunion go away? Unfortunately, no – but if you catch it early, you can slow down its progress indefinitely. There’s a long time between the first appearance of that bony bump and the time surgical treatment becomes necessary.
With that said, to prevent bunions from getting worse, you will need to be a bit more aggressive.
How to keep bunions from getting worse?
Pretty much any of the tips we listed as “bunion prevention” will also help slow down a bunion’s growth. But at this point, you should also consider:
- Wearing bunion pads or shoe inserts every day, and not just for work or exercise sessions.
- Custom orthotics and toe separators to help your toes remain in place while inside your shoes.
- Wearing toe splints at night.
- A more structured physical therapy plan to strengthen your metatarsal bones and joints.
You may also need to be stricter about your shoes. When you’re just preventing a bunion, we often ask people to avoid narrow shoes or high heels. Now it may be time to banish them altogether! If you’re using orthotics or shoe inserts, you may also need to size up and discard some old models.
How to stop bunion pain?
While the promise of further joint damage is bad enough, don’t forget to address your current foot pain.
Bunion pain usually flares up from overuse. After a particularly tough day, consider over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (like Advil) to lessen any immediate pain or swelling. You can also try soaking your feet in warm water and adding a few soothing bath salts.
Often, the pain and soreness are caused by the blisters and calluses your bunion creates. Keep those in check, or visit a pedicurist to get rid of them.
Need a Thorough Anti-Bunion Orthopedic Plan near L.A.? Visit the Bunion Institute
The Bunion Institute of Los Angeles brings together some of the top specialists in podiatry, orthopedics, and foot & ankle surgery in Southern California. Our work ranges the full spectrum from early preventative interventions to minimally invasive surgical realignment of the toes.
To schedule a consultation, please call (855) 814-3600 or make an appointment now.
University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. Our podiatrists and foot and ankle surgeons are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, the San Fernando Valley, Manhattan Beach, the South Bay, LAX, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Valencia, Santa Clarita, and Santa Barbara.