Bunions: Are You Accidentally Making Your Bunion Worse?

Bunions: Are You Accidentally Making Your Bunion Worse?

Posted 18 Apr

Bunions are a very concerning problem for many of our patients here at The Feet People. Many have seen their parents or grandparents struggle with bunions: whether the challenge is finding shoes that fit and accommodate a wider forefoot, whether it’s the pain or discomfort of footwear rubbing against the side of the bunion and causing blisters or corns, or it's simply feeling a confidence hit in the appearance of the foot where a bunion is growing more and more prominent  - all of these points are very valid and disheartening. 

For some of our patients, their family history has made them almost accept their bunion ‘fate’. Which is why they’re delighted to learn that while genetic predisposition can definitely play a role in the likelihood of developing bunions, it doesn’t mean that it has to be your destiny - or that there’s nothing you can do to help either reduce your risk of developing them, or slow their progression if they do start to develop. Which leads to the all-important question: could you actually be making your bunion worse without even realising it? Here are five things that could be doing just that.

1. Tight-Fitting Shoes and High Heels

Wearing shoes that constrict the toes or force them into an unnatural position can exacerbate bunions. High heels, in particular, push the body's weight forward, cramming the toes into the narrow front of the shoe. This not only aggravates the pain and inflammation associated with bunions but can also accelerate their progression. The same goes for those ‘V’ style shoes. The constant pressure on the side of the foot from tight or limiting shoes is ultimately what can make the bunion more prominent and painful.


To support bunion prevention, opt for shoes with a wider toe box that doesn’t press against the sides of the toes and have low heels, no more than 2cm high. Shoes designed to accommodate the natural shape of your feet can help alleviate pressure on the bunion. If you have a strong family history of bunions, you may also want to consider whether custom foot orthotics that are specifically designed to provide support and distribute weight more evenly across the foot may help.


Tip: remember that bunions don’t occur just at the big toe, they occur at the little (fifth) toe too! This is called a Tailor’s bunion, and it’s why you want to make sure you don’t have rubbing on the outside of the foot either, as well as on the inside of the foot.

2. Prolonged Standing

Many people don't realise the impact that prolonged standing, especially on hard surfaces, can have on their feet. This continuous pressure can exacerbate a wide range of foot conditions and pains, and this very much includes bunions. The risk of bunions is exacerbated by putting constant stress on the toe joint and surrounding areas, potentially worsening the bunion's protrusion and associated pain.


To support bunion prevention, if your daily routine requires extended periods of standing, ensure you're wearing supportive footwear and take regular breaks to sit down and elevate your feet. If you’re standing on the same spot, like in a factory, workshop, or an office with hard floors, consider using an anti-fatigue mat and doing foot exercises during breaks to help relieve pressure, improve circulation and reduce your bunion risk.

3. Ignoring Early Signs Of Discomfort

It's not uncommon for people across all ages and walks of life to dismiss mild discomfort or changes in their feet, taking a ‘she’ll be right’ mentality or assuming any pain or discomfort will simply go away on its own in time without any lasting consequences. This is where many may not realise that tackling any pains and problems early can be a very effective and important strategy to help slow the progression of bunions or support their prevention. Ignoring symptoms increases the likelihood of problems progressing. 


To support bunion prevention, don’t ignore any signs of discomfort or changes in your feet. See a podiatrist early, particularly if you have a family history of bunions. Your podiatrist will provide valuable guidance and present you with several treatment options (if applicable), such as corrective exercises, bunion splints, or other therapies like custom foot orthotics (under certain circumstances) to address your symptoms before they escalate.

4. Improper Footwear For Exercise

Engaging in physical activities with improper footwear can put additional strain on your feet, especially if you have bunions. Shoes that lack proper support, do not fit well, or used to fit well but now are worn out can all increase the stress on the big toe and bunion area during high-impact activities, worsening the condition.


To support bunion prevention, choose athletic shoes that provide ample support and cushioning, especially in the forefoot area. Consider consulting with a specialist to find the best shoe type for your specific activities and foot shape. Additionally, incorporating low-impact exercises into your routine can help maintain fitness while minimising stress on your feet.

5. Overlooking The Importance of Foot Strengthening

Many people are not aware of the benefits that foot strengthening exercises can provide for managing and potentially reducing the impact of bunions. When the muscles in and around the feet are weak, the balance of how the bones, muscles and tendons work harmoniously together can be disrupted, leading to compromised foot mechanics. For those with bunions, this imbalance can place additional stress on the big toe joint, exacerbating the misalignment and the pain of a bunion, regardless of how big or small it is.


This is where foot strengthening exercises can help - by specifically targeting the muscles in the feet and lower legs, exercises help improve stability, support, and alignment. This can lead to a more even distribution of weight across the foot, reducing the pressure on the bunion and, consequently, the discomfort it causes.


For example, exercises such as toe spreads, where you spread your toes apart and then squeeze them together, can enhance the control and strength of the muscles around the toes. Toe curls, which involve curling your toes to grab onto a towel or fabric on the floor and then releasing, can strengthen the underfoot muscles, improving grip and stability. Heel raises, where you lift your heels off the ground while keeping your toes on the floor, can strengthen the calf muscles and the arch of the foot, contributing to better foot mechanics and reducing the strain on the bunion.


Incorporating exercises that improve flexibility and mobility, such as Achilles tendon stretches and toe point-and-flex movements, can also aid in alleviating tension around the bunion area. These stretches can help maintain or even improve the range of motion in the affected joint, which is often compromised as a bunion progresses.

Final Thoughts

One more point we’ll add in here is on having unresolved inflammation. Inflammation in the feet tells us that there’s something going on that has the potential to cause damage. Whether you’ve injured your big toe, have rheumatoid arthritis, gout or something else, having persistent inflammation over a period to time can be quite damaging to the integrity and stability of a joint. This can make the joint (specifically the big toe joint) more susceptible to damage and changes, including accelerating the progression of a bunion. So if you’ve currently got inflammation in your feet, we definitely recommend working with your podiatrist to manage this as best possible, to then help support your (potential) bunion as best possible.



Unsure where to start with preventing a bunion or managing it? Our podiatry team here at The Feet People is here to help, with clinics both in the Brisbane CBD and in Newmarket. Book your appointment with our podiatry team online here or call us on (07) 3356 3579.

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