Healing a bunion with exercise?
March 8, 2023 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I am really curious whether it's possible to heal bunions with exercises.

I have mild bunions. One foot is slightly worse than the other, but they are luckily both mild. No real pain or mobility issues.

I saw a podiatrist and she recommended some strategies for trying to prevent the bunions from getting worse, such as a silicone device and shoes with more toe room. She said that there's no evidence for doing exercises.

The internet is full of people claiming that exercises can transform the feet and potentially heal bunions. But I'd like to look at what the evidence is.

I came across a study where they looked at a small set of exercises and how these reduced pain and improved mobility (see: https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2016.0504). I feel like it's a bit of an oversight for my podiatrist to not recommend any exercises at all. Even if you can't improve the appearance of the bunion, avoiding pain and loss of mobility is important. It kind of makes me wonder what podiatrists might be missing.

So, hivemind, can you please share what you know about bunions? I am going through a lot at the moment and struggling to research this too.

Thank you
posted by kinddieserzeit to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I also have mild bunions. I have used "Correct Toes" silicone spacers for many years. Last time I checked that brand was now quite expensive, so I'm lucky they've lasted. There are other similar spacers like Yoga Toes that might be cheaper?

I've never done exercises, but if I put the spacers in, socks on top, and walk with them for a bit, it certainly feels like the toes get a good stretching.

I have never seen any visual improvement or actual straightening of the toes. However, the spacers have absolutely helped reduce pain for me.
posted by other barry at 1:38 AM on March 9, 2023

A silicone spacer helped me significantly, within a couple of months, but didn't completely fix it. Before the spacer the big toe of my right foot was locked in place horizontally: I could move it up or down with the other toes but not left. It was such a weird feeling when it loosened up enough that I could suddenly wiggle it left and then right again.

I never tried any exercises, didn't know they were an option.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:12 AM on March 9, 2023

The NHS says:
You cannot get rid of bunions or stop them getting worse yourself, but there are things you can do to relieve any pain:
  • wear wide shoes with a low heel and soft sole
  • hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) to the bunion for up to 5 minutes at a time
  • try bunion pads (soft pads you put in shoes to stop them rubbing on a bunion) – you can buy these from pharmacies
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • try to lose weight if you're overweight

You cannot always prevent bunions. The cause of bunions is unknown. It's not clear if you can do anything to prevent them.
posted by Klipspringer at 2:35 AM on March 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Any exercise you did would have to put pressure on the toes to spread them wider and at the same time provide compression to the side of the foot to encourage the big toe to return to the original alignment. The closest exercise physically possible would be to walk barefoot, particularly doing things like climbing steep sand dunes so that you would naturally spread your toes and dig them in to get purchase.

But your feet developed bunions from hours and hours of walking and standing and simply wearing shoes that were the wrong shape for them. An hour of exercise a day is not going to do it. You've been wearing the shoes for more than a hour a day, probably for decades. Deformed bones require physical bracing, the same way broken bones require a cast and misaligned teeth require braces. Something has to hold them into the alignment you want. There is only so much that your muscles can do.

Exercise would be good for your feet - it would improve your circulation and strengthen the muscles. But the fastest way to help your feet is to only wear shoes that don't compress the toes and diligently use the toe spacers. All they can do is prevent farther deterioration and help reduce the inflammation. I won't even recommend going barefoot without your podiatrist confirming that it is still okay, because there might be a chance that without the support of the toe spacers and possibly soles, your weight would actually make the problem worse. Exercise is unfortunately no where near enough to fix bones that have been deformed this way.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:34 AM on March 9, 2023 [3 favorites]

No real medical advice here, just personal experience... I've had bunions since I was a teenager, thanks to the combo of wide feet + ballet. I've found some relief from:

1) Bigger shoes (upsizing-- sometimes by a full size, wides, or something like Keens)
2) A single silicone insert (like the Correct Toes shown above, but not for the whole foot -- I found mine for under $10 at a dancer supply shop while there with my daughter.)
3) Sleeping while wearing a bunion corrector (a velcro-based brace/support that stretches your big toe)
posted by hessie at 6:11 AM on March 9, 2023

I’ve been developing bunions for a decade, and was advised exercises that might help — yawing my big toes, basically. Under their own power, spreading them away from the rest of my toes and then squeezing them back.

Doing it now, I can feel that I’ve let them get tight. It is stretching and strengthening something.

On the other hand I remember the PT? podiatrist? being pretty surprised I could do it.
posted by clew at 10:46 AM on March 9, 2023

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