One of the most common questions our podiatrists are asked is: Can bunions be corrected without surgery? And the answer is: Surgery is the only way to get rid of bunions once they form and become a problem.

However, surgery isn’t your only treatment option to relieve bunion pain.

In fact, nonsurgical bunion treatments are always the first step. That’s because between home remedies, over-the-counter treatments and a bit of help from a doctor, there are effective ways to ease and manage pain. And depending on your bunion’s condition and pain levels, nonsurgical methods may be all you need.

Read on to learn how you can treat your bunion without surgery.

How to relieve bunion pain with home remedies for bunions

Take NSAIDs for bunion pain relief and to reduce inflammation

One of the most common bunion symptoms is swelling in the joint at the base of your big toe. This inflammation is your body’s natural response to an injury. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve both swelling and pain.

Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs aren’t recommended for long-term use or for people with certain chronic conditions. So, talk to your doctor about whether a NSAID is right for you. And of course, always follow the dosage instructions.

Use the right mix of hot and cold therapy

When your bunion is irritated, painful or swollen, using the right mix of hot and cold therapies can be extremely soothing.

Cold therapies constrict blood vessels, which helps bring down swelling. So, soaking your bunion in cold water can help reduce that inflammation. A cold soak may also bring some relief to your toes and other areas of your foot that get irritated by bunion-related rubbing.

Heat therapies help improve blood flow and relax sore joints and muscles. If you’re experiencing soreness or cramping in the bunion-affected area or in other areas of your foot, soaking your feet in warm water can feel great.

If you don’t want to get your feet wet, ice packs and heating pads can provide similar therapeutic benefits. For swelling in particular, elevating your foot while using an ice pack can heighten the anti-inflammatory effect.

Give your feet exercise and rest

Staying active is the best way to condition and strengthen your feet. And even better, there are specific exercises like toe curls and marble pick-ups that can help.

But it’s also important to know that rest is just as important as activity for managing your bunion pain. You may have to give your feet breaks and modify certain activities in order to get relief from your symptoms.

To give your feet both the rest and the exercise they need, stay as active as you can without causing yourself pain. This may mean exercising your feet by themselves, or doing activities that take pressure off of them, like swimming.

Maintain a healthy weight

Your feet have a lot of work to do. They support your body and help your body move everywhere it goes. So, they’re under constant pressure. But by striving to maintain a healthy body weight, you can reduce excess pressure.

Footwear and accessories to ease bunion pain

Invest in comfortable shoes that are the right size and fit

Choosing the right footwear can help prevent bunions. But once a bunion is formed, there are certain things you should look for in a shoe.

Shoes for bunions

The best shoes for bunions have a few key features:

  • A wide toe box to give your toes enough space. This helps make sure your toes aren’t squished or rubbing together, which can lead to more pain and bunion problems.
  • A firm, yet cushioned sole to give you comfort and support.
  • No heel or a low heel to reduce pressure on your toes and bunion.

Everyday shoe brands like New Balance, Nike, Birkenstock and Naturalizer have several styles that have all these features. But there are also shoe brands like Sole Bliss that specifically design shoes for people with bunions.

Every shoe brand is different, so when you go shopping try on different shoe styles. This will help you see how different shoes feel and fit around your bunion.

Custom orthotics

You can find orthotic shoe inserts at pretty much any drug store. And they can be a good starting point for giving your feet more cushion and support. If those aren’t enough, specialty shoe stores often sell their own inserts, which can be more effective.

But if you’re still having trouble finding the right fit or they’re not as effective as they once were, custom orthotics may be the next step – and that’s where a podiatrist can help.

Custom orthotics are specially made for your feet to give you greater support, balance and bunion relief.

Use footwear accessories to help soothe and protect bunions

There are several assistive accessories that can be purchased online or through local retailers to protect your bunion and help reduce pain. These accessories can’t correct bunions (only bunion removal surgery can do that), but they can still improve your day-to-day life. Examples include:

  • Bunion gel pads or moleskin pads act as a cushion, covering the bunion and other pressure points to protect them from irritation.
  • Bunion sleeves slide onto your big toe and the ball of your foot. Like pads, sleeves protect the bunion from rubbing inside shoes, but are more locked in due to their design.
  • Bunion toe spacers fit between the big toe and the second toe, and can keep them from crowding and rubbing each other. Spacers can also help straighten the big toe and can be worn inside shoes.
  • Bunion splints wrap around your big toe and foot, similar to a sleeve. Splints temporarily straighten your big toe, which can help reduce pain and discomfort. Splints can’t be worn with shoes, so they’re usually worn at night.

Feel like you’ve tried everything? Talk with your podiatrist about surgical options

For many, bunions and the pain they cause can be effectively managed without surgery. But surgery is the only way to get rid of bunions.

If more conservative treatments are becoming less effective or have stopped working, or if you daily life is being impacted by bunion pain, it may be time to talk with a podiatrist about how to correct bunions with surgery.

Many podiatrists are also foot and ankle surgeons, and those that aren’t can refer you to colleagues who are.