For some people, especially women, bunions are a painful fact of life. But with a few simple exercises, you can not only relieve the problems posed by bunions but help rehabilitate your entire foot’s structure. These exercises can help you strengthen your feet, correct the deformity, and make future bunions less likely to form.
A bunion is a joint deformity that is often brought on by muscle and tendon imbalances within the foot and calf. Wearing tight-fitting, narrow shoes can both cause bunions to form and make them worse over time.
Because women’s feet tend to be smaller — and modern culture encourages women to wear tight-fitting shoes (often with heels) — bunions can disproportionately affect them. According to an article in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, bunions affect around 35% of women over the age of 65.
The good news about bunions is that they can be corrected and prevented using certain exercises.
Ideally, these barefoot exercises will be performed for 10 – 20 minutes every day. While that may seem like a lot, you’ll likely find that the relief these movements provide is well worth the minimal effort they take. Plus, there’s a strong chance that rehabilitating your foot and calf muscle structure can prevent the need for surgery, making a strong case for strengthening your toes daily!
If you can’t fit these movements into your daily routine, try doing them every other day. You can alternate which exercises you do on a given day, but be sure to do each one for the recommended repetitions or until your foot becomes tired.
Also, always do all exercises with both feet, even if you only have a bunion on one. Otherwise, you may create further imbalances that could affect your gait, your hips, your feet, and your spinal alignment.
This is the simplest exercise, and it’s the best one to start off with if you have severe foot pain or difficulty walking. All you have to do is use your hands to gently and slowly rotate your big toe in a circular motion 20 times while seated. Then, reverse the direction. If bending over is difficult, you can perform this exercise with your foot on your knee.
While seated and holding your foot six inches off the floor, curl your toes while pointing your big toe at an angle towards the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 20 times a set, and do 2 to 3 sets a session.
Similar to the curl and point, sit in a chair while allowing your feet to hover 6 inches above the ground. Raise your big toe upwards as high as you can (without straining) while keeping the bottoms of your feet parallel to the ground. You can add gentle resistance to this exercise by using your hands to put a small amount of pressure on your toes while they’re lifting up. Hold each repetition for 10 seconds, and do 5 repetitions per foot.
With your foot flat on the ground, spread your big toe and your small (pinky) toe as far apart from each other as you comfortably can using just your foot muscles. Your big toe should be moving towards your inner heel and the other foot. Keep your heel and the bottoms of your feet as flat as possible. Do this 10 – 20 times per foot.
This one might dirty up a fresh towel, so maybe it’s best after a relaxing Epsom soak! All you have to do is place the towel on the ground with your feet on top, either seated or standing. Using one foot at a time, scrunch your toes to pull the towel closer towards your body. Keep your toes tense for five seconds at a time, and then relax and repeat on alternating feet. Do this for 3 – 5 minutes.
While standing and with knees slightly bent, begin to raise your inner arch with your heel slightly inwards. Then, raise your heel off the ground using your big toe as support.
This exercise might be difficult if you have severe bunions or currently have underdeveloped leg muscles. However, that makes it all the more important to do! Strengthening your big toe muscles and tendons alongside your calves reduce the chances of bunions reforming, and it can also improve posture, gait, and other skeletal deformities.
This is another exercise to build up towards if you have more severe bunions. To perform the exercise, simply take a small exercise band and wrap it around the outer edge of each big toe. Then, while keeping your heels fixed, pivot your feet outwards and use your big toes to stretch the band. Keep the tension for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 20 times.
There are many therapeutic ways to relieve pain and help you “de-stress” tired and swollen tendons or bones in your foot. They include rolling your feet on top of a tennis ball or lacrosse ball for 3 – 5 minutes per foot. Icing can be great for swollen or painful bunions, which can be followed by a soak in comfortably hot water. Massages can also help, especially you articulate your toes while they are being performed.
Another great activity — if you have access to it — is a barefoot walk on the beach. Just be wary of sand burrs, shells, and other painful hazards first!
In many cases, bunions can be effectively treated through home management and the use of devices like toe spacers. The choice of footwear is also critical. Wear open-toed sandals and loose-fitting, comfortable shoes for a while, and avoid heels.
However, many bunions deserve an examination by a professional podiatrist, especially if they are painful and are affecting your ability to walk or engage in activities.
Elizabeth Auger, a licensed podiatrist in Salt Lake City, can examine your feet and perform full diagnosis. She may prescribe particular ointments, orthotics, medications, or footwear to help relieve pain and coax your bunion back into the regular position. She can also monitor your progress over time and address any complications that could arise during your treatment.
Surgery may be an option in extreme cases, but our goal is to usually avoid surgery since many times bunions return if habits don’t change!
Get a full evaluation and tailored recommendations during an appointment at a location near you. Same-day appointments are usually available, so call us any time at (801) 396-9743 to book your appointment with Elizabeth Auger today!