A bunion is a deformity which occurs when the head of the first metatarsal bone behind the big toe angles out from the foot, pushing the toe toward the adjacent toes (in most cases). The protruding metatarsal head irritates the soft tissue, causing soreness on the side, top and bottom of the foot. Additionally, muscles and tendons in the foot become cramped, tired, and fatigued.
In most cases, a bunion develops due to faulty biomechanics in the foot. You'll read a lot of info online that blames high heels and even ballerina shoes for bunions, and while they might contribute to the condition, the root cause is usually genetic. Any podiatric surgeon whose been at it for a decade or more will tell you that he or she has corrected bunion deformities in members of the same family - usually mothers and daughters, but a few sons thrown in for good measure. Faulty arches, flat feet, and loose ligaments, tendons, and muscles are inherited from our parents. We stuff our feet into too-tight shoes, high heels which shift our body weight to the front of the foot, and inexpensive shoes which offer no support to our arches. Combine all of these factors, and voila! A bunion!
Once a bunion starts forming there is absolutely nothing you can do to reverse it, as the metatarsal bone is already out of alignment. But you can slow the progression of the bunion and strengthen the toe and foot muscles to relieve pain and discomfort and increase flexibility. If one of your parents or older siblings have bunions and you don't, proper shoes and strengthening exercises may help delay the onset of your bunions.
Here are some exercises to relive bunion pain:
Sitting exercises for bunion pain relief
- Stretch your big toe. Using your fingers, pull your big toe into proper alignment and hold for ten seconds. Repeat 4 times.
- Flex, stretch, and contract your toes to keep them limber and reduce foot pain and fatigue. Point your toes straight ahead for 5 seconds and then curl your toes under for 5 seconds, as if you're trying to grab something with your toes. Repeat 10 times.
- Resistance. Wrap a towel around your big toe. Use the towel to pull your toe gently towards you while simultaneously pushing against the towel with your toe.
- The ball roll. Place a golf ball or tennis ball under your foot and roll it around for a few minutes. The ball gently massages your arch, which will help to relieve cramping in the muscles.
- Pick up a towel. Spread a small towel flat on the floor in front of you. Then try and pick it up with your toes. This is fantastic for strengthening your toes and improving flexibility.
- Play with marbles. Place 12 marbles on the floor in front of you. Pick them up with your toes and move them to a basket. This gripping exercise improves strength in a similar way to the towel exercise above.
Standing exercises for bunion pain relief
- Walk in sand. If you can, walk barefoot on the beach. This gives your feet a gentle massage and strengthens them in the most natural fashion. Stroll the beach sans sandals whenever possible.
- The tennis ball lift. While standing, squeeze a tennis ball between your ankles. Then raise up on the balls of your feet, keeping your ankles level. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor. This strengthens the muscles which help to align your foot and ankle.
- A little toe exercise. While standing, curl all of your toes up off the floor. Then, touch only your little toe to the floor. Raise the little toe back up again until it's even with the other toes. This exercise strengthens the muscles that run from the little toes up the sides of your legs.
- Yoga Toe. Stand straight up and curl all of the toes on one foot off the floor. Hold the three middle toes in the air, then lower the big toe AND the little toe to the floor simultaneously. Then lift the little toe and big toe back up together. This is incredibly difficult, but will balance the muscles in your feet, as taught in yoga.
We recommend that you perform each of these exercise twice a day, morning and night, to releive your bunion pain. If your discomfort continues, make an appointment with PA Foot and Ankle Associates. One of our podiatrists will assess your condition and recommend a treatment plan for your bunions.