Bunions are one of the most common foot problems, particularly among adults. And while you can get bunions at any age, some studies show that up to one-third of adults have them. And if bunions or other foot problems run in your family, or you have certain medical conditions, you may be at a higher risk for getting bunions.

But is there any way to prevent bunions from forming? Or if you have them already, how can you stop bunions from getting worse? Below, we’ll answer these questions and more.

Bunion prevention and management: 5 things to start doing

1. Make sure your shoes are the right size and fit

It may seem obvious, but wearing the right kind of shoes is really important for bunion prevention. Having an uneven amount of pressure or rubbing on your toes can contribute to developing bunions in a big way. The best shoes for avoiding bunions have the following:

  • Instant comfort – When you slip your feet into a pair of shoes for the first time, you shouldn’t feel pinching or rubbing. You shouldn’t have to “break in” a pair of shoes for weeks or months. This puts stress on your feet, and even after the shoes have been worn for a while, they still may not be the ideal fit. Your shoes should feel sturdy, but comfortable. So, shop with instant comfort in mind.
  • Size and fit – Make sure your shoes are the right length and width for your foot. Avoid tight, narrow or pointy shoes, and look for styles that can accommodate your instep. Your instep is the top of your foot and it shouldn’t be a struggle to slip your feet into a pair of shoes. Also, look for shoes with broad toe boxes to keep your toes from rubbing together, and soft soles to provide cushion and support.
  • Support – Arch supports help distribute pressure evenly anytime you’re on your feet, rather than putting it all on the balls or heels of your feet. Many shoes have a built-in arch support, but you may need to add an arch support insert for maximum comfort.

But what if you already have a bunion? Can simply changing your shoes help prevent bunions from getting worse?

Once a bunion starts to form, it can’t be reversed. But the right shoes can help relieve foot pain so you can live your life. The right shoes can also help alleviate pressure on your toe joint. But keep reading for more ways to help your feet.

2. Avoid wearing high heels every day (or retire them altogether)

Nothing puts pressure on your toes, and particularly your big toe joint, like high heels. If you can give up heels in favor of supportive flats, do it. If you’re not quite ready to give heels up yet, consider trading them out for those flats a few days a week.

Also, if you’re going to wear heels try to keep the height under two inches to minimize pressure. Or look at adding wedges or block heels to your wardrobe since they are best at distributing weight.

3. Rest your feet

Our feet get a lot of use, so they deserve an equal amount of rest and relaxation. Getting off your feet, especially when you’ve been standing or moving around for a while, can help release some tension and pressure.

If you can, take your shoes off for a few minutes throughout the day to give your feet room to breathe. Even if you’re wearing the perfect bunion-preventing shoes, your feet will still be thankful.

4. Do bunion stretches and exercises to strengthen your feet

Just like other parts of your body, you can train your feet to become stronger and more flexible using some specific exercises. This can help improve your overall foot health, reduce foot and ankle pain, relieve muscle soreness and keep you moving.

Bunion prevention (or management) exercises to try

To improve the strength and flexibility of your feet, do two or three sets of some or all of these exercises twice a day:

  • Pickups – Place 10 to 20 small objects on the floor. Then, from a seated position on a chair, use your toes to pick up each item and drop them into a container.
  • Curls – Lay a small towel out on the floor, then sit on the floor or in a chair with the towel within reach of your toes. Curl your toes around the towel and pull it toward you by bending your knees. Repeat for five minutes.
  • Stretches – With your feet off the floor, keep your toes as pointed as you can and then curl them as far as they will go. Do this for five seconds at a time with each foot. Repeat 10 times. You can also stretch your big toes by pulling them up with an exercise band. To turn this into a resistance exercise, push back through the toe as it’s stretched.
  • Rolling – Sit in a chair and place a can or a tennis ball under your foot. Pushing down with your foot, roll the object along and around the length of each foot for two to three minutes.

5. Monitor your feet for changes

Bunions develop slowly, so paying attention to any changes in your feet may help you catch subtle signs earlier. Some of the earliest signs of a bunion are pain, swelling and redness in your big toe joint.

If you’re beginning to notice a lump or a bump on the side of your big toe, or it’s beginning to turn in toward the other toes, things are likely more advanced.

In either case, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a podiatrist. Podiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating foot and ankle conditions, and they can help you take the right next steps to relieve bunion pain.

Keep moving forward

Whether you’re trying to prevent your bunions from getting worse or trying to prevent them altogether, one of the best places to start is with a good pair of shoes. The right pair of shoes can help your feet stay active and protect them from painful foot conditions, bunions included.

From there, rest, exercise and a little attention can go a long way toward keeping your feet healthy. But if you’re already noticing changes or pain around your big toe joint, make an appointment with a podiatrist to get an official diagnosis and treatment plan.