What Nonsurgical Options Do I Have for Treating My Bunions?

About a third of all adults in the U.S. have a bunion, a painful, bony deformity of the joint of the big toe. Bunions can occur at any age — even childhood — but like a lot of other foot problems, they tend to become more common as we age. They’re also about 10 times more likely to occur in women as in men, probably at least partly due to the footwear choices many women make: Shoes with very pointy toes, for example, can squeeze the toes tightly together, forcing the big toe joint out of alignment, while shoes with high heels can also cause crowding by forcing the toes downward into the very tip of the shoes.

In very severe cases and when medical treatment has been delayed for a long time, surgery might be the best choice for realigning the joint and relieving painful symptoms. But often, bunions can be treated successfully without resorting to surgery. At Animas Foot and Ankle, we always try conservative, nonsurgical options first. Here are some of the most effective nonsurgical options that just might provide you with the relief you’re looking for.

Switch your shoes

This option is first for a reason: If you keep wearing high-heeled shoes or shoes with cramped, tight toe areas, your bunions aren’t going anywhere. You need to select shoes with ample room in the toes to give the toe joint plenty of room to move normally.

Gentle stretching

If your bunion is relatively “new” and the joint is still movable and flexible, you might be able to restore the normal alignment of the joint by gently stretching and massaging the toe joint area. Stretching can be especially effective when used in combination with other treatments listed here.


Medicines can’t heal a bunion, but they can help relieve the pain and inflammation that goes along with them. Over time, inflammation can trigger arthritic changes in the joint, making the joint stiff, reducing mobility, and increasing your discomfort. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines or NSAIDs like ibuprofen can be very helpful in relieving symptoms when combined with other treatment options listed here.

Toe separators

Positioned between your big toe and the toe next to it, a toe separator helps keep your big toe joint “in line” by preventing your toe from leaning inward. Separators are made of flexible materials that, while firm enough to keep your toe aligned, are comfortable to wear, even with shoes.


Splints perform the same type of function as toe separators, but they’re typically worn at night while you sleep to help coax the big toe joint back into its normal position. You might also wear a splint while you’re relaxing with your feet up in the evening. Sometimes, a splint is used in combination with taping to make sure the toe stays in its proper position.

Custom orthotics

Custom orthotics are special inserts you wear inside your shoes. At Animas Foot and Ankle, we can design orthotics that fit many types of shoes, including athletic shoes and dress shoes. Every orthotic is created on a patient-by-patient basis, taking into account the patient’s foot shape, gait pattern, medical and family history, habits, and lifestyle factors to ensure every underlying issue is addressed. The end product is an orthotic that’s developed just for you, for optimal comfort and function.

Figuring out which treatment is right for you

Even though bunions are fairly common, their underlying causes can vary significantly from one person to another. That means treatment has to be unique as well as focused on the needs of the individual patient. At Animas Foot and Ankle, your treatment will begin with a thorough examination of your foot and an evaluation of your symptoms, your overall health and wellness, your gait pattern, and other factors that can have an impact on your symptoms as well as your treatment. Then our team will work with you to determine the options that can help you relieve your symptoms and improve your joint health and function. Delaying treatment can just make your symptoms — and your toe joint — worse. If you've got a bunion or if you have another foot problem that's interfering with your activities, book an appointment online today.

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