One of the most common questions our podiatrists are asked is: Can bunions be corrected without surgery? The answer is: there are ways we can relieve bunion pain without surgery.

In fact, nonsurgical treatments for bunions 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.

Occasionally, a podiatrist may recommend surgery to treat bunions. We’ll help you understand the causes of bunions, different treatments you can try at home and when to talk to a doctor. Read on to learn how to treat bunions without surgery and who can help.

What are bunions?

A bunion (hallux valgus) is a bump on the side of your foot on the big toe joint. When the bones and muscles in your foot are out of alignment it can create a bony bump. If you think you have a bunion, you’re not alone – they affect up to one third of Americans.

What causes bunions?

The exact cause of bunions is unknown, but there are several possibilities. Some experts think that bunions are an inherited condition (passed down through DNA) based on your foot shape. Another theory is that tight-fitting or narrow shoes force your toes into an unnatural position which puts extra pressure on your joints. It’s also possible that people with inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, might be more likely to develop bunions.

Working in certain professions can also make you more prone to developing foot problems like bunions. For example, nurses, teachers, servers, ballet dancers and other people who stand most of the day put extra pressure on their feet.

Can bunions be reversed?

The short answer is no. Bunions can’t be reversed, and unfortunately, they don’t go away on their own. Once you have a bunion, it will likely continue to grow over time. Luckily, many people don’t need to have surgery to treat their bunions. It’s possible to find pain relief through home remedies, orthotics and other treatments.

A close-up of a woman's feet with a bunion developing on the joint of her big toe.

Home remedies for bunions

If you’re dealing with bunions, you’re probably familiar with how inconvenient they can be. You might have to avoid wearing certain shoes or taking long walks. However, there are many nonsurgical treatments for bunion pain you can do at home, including taking over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), applying heat and ice, and wearing special footwear and orthotics.

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. NSAIDs medicines can help relieve both swelling and pain, and they start working within an hour – so they can help you find quick relief from bunion pain.

Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). 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

Hot and cold therapies are natural treatments for a wide range of conditions, and bunions are no exception. When your bunion is irritated, painful or swollen, treating it with the right mix of hot and cold therapies can be very 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 both 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. Exercise may be an effective way to treat bunions, prevent future bunions and increase your foot mobility.

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 you move everywhere you go – so they’re they’re under constant pressure. But by striving to maintain a healthy body weight, you can reduce excess pressure.

Treating bunion pain with footwear and accessories

When you have bunions, footwear can either be the best treatment or your worst enemy. If you’re in pain, you should avoid high heels or pointed toe shoes that put pressure on your bunion and toes. Instead, choose supportive shoes with plenty of room for your toes.

You can also try different types of orthotics and accessories to level up your bunion treatment, so your feet are comfortable throughout the day. You may have heard that bunion correctors, bunion splints, bunion toe separators and bunion pads can help manage pain. We’ll tell you what they are and how they work so you know what to expect from these accessories.

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.

The best shoes for bunions

The best shoes for bunions have a few key features:

  • A wide toe box (the part of the shoe surrounding the toes) 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 to treat bunion pain

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, sometimes called bunion correctors 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. While they can offer pain relief, it’s important to know that bunion correctors can’t permanently heal a bunion. It won’t align the bones, muscles and ligaments inside your foot.
  • 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.

Can you get rid of bunions?

The only way to permanently remove bunions is surgery, sometimes called a bunionectomy. There are a few different ways to surgically remove a bunion, and all are common. Your podiatrist will take a look at your foot to determine the best approach to help you find permanent bunion relief.

How to know when to see a doctor for bunion treatment

Many bunions can be managed with surgery or other treatments from a podiatrist, but there are a few symptoms to look for. If you notice any of these bunion symptoms, it may be time to make an appointment:

  • You notice a visible bump on or near the joint of your big toe.
  • It’s becoming more difficult to move your toes or feet.
  • Your foot pain makes it difficult for you to do your regular activities
  • It’s tricky to find shoes that fit around your bunion

Talk with your podiatrist about bunion treatments

You don’t need to struggle with bunion pain on your own. Our podiatrists are here to answer your questions about bunion treatments. We’ll work with you to create a personalized treatment plan to help you find relief.

Most of the time, we can help you manage bunion pain without surgery. But if surgery is the best treatment option for you, we’ll talk you through the procedure and help you prepare.

If your daily life is impacted by bunion pain, take your first step toward relief.

Make an appointment with a podiatrist