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Physical Therapy for Bunions – Information, Exercises, and More

You’re suffering from the pain of bunions. 

Your days of wearing tight shoes and staying on your feet for long hours have caught up with you. 

And now you want relief. 

You’ve been searching the internet looking for ways to alleviate bunion pain. 

We’re assuming your search sent you here. And you’re in luck. We’ve got the answers you’ve been searching for. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the causes and symptoms of bunions, and treatments you can use to find the relief you deserve.

What Are Bunions?

Bunions are bony bumps that form on the joint at the base of your big toe. They take years to form. 

Bunions occur when bones in the front part of your foot move out of place causing the tip of your big toe to be pulled in the direction of your smaller toes — forcing the joint at the base of your big toe to stick out. 

In Latin, bunions are referred to as hallux valgus. Hallux means big toe. Valgus means turned away from the midline of the body

Smaller bunions, known as bunionettes, can develop on the joint of your little toe as well. 

Bunions can be accompanied by calluses and hard skin.

What Causes Bunions?

Bunions commonly form due to your foot being repeatedly squeezed into narrow, tight, (uncomfortable) shoes — but this is not necessarily the underlying cause, according to Harvard Medical School

In fact, bunions may run in your family. 

Yes, they have to do with genetics … well, kind of. 

What do we mean? 

The shape of your foot is hereditary — and if you have low arches, flat feet, or loose joints, you may be more likely to get bunions. 

Additionally, 35% of women over the age of 35 are affected by bunions. Women are more likely to get bunions than men for several reasons, including:

  1. Wearing tight shoeswomen who wear high heels regularly are more likely to develop bunions. 
  2. Pregnancy — Hormonal changes during pregnancy loosen ligaments in the foot, increasing the risk for bunions and other foot problems.  

Ballet dancers, teachers, nurses, or anyone that stands for long hours have a higher chance of developing bunions due to repetitive stress on the feet.

Other causes of bunions include:

  • Some types of arthritis — like rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Conditions that affect your nerves and joints — like polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Foot injuries — sprains, fractures, or nerve injuries
  • Congenital deformities

Bunion Symptoms

Symptoms typically occur on the side of a bunion. Symptoms are generally aggravated when wearing tight-fitting shoes, or when spending long periods of time on your feet. 

Some common bunion symptoms are: 

  • Swelling
  • Deformity 
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Pain or soreness
  • Inflammation and redness
  • A burning sensation
  • Possible numbness

Over time the affected area may become shiny and warm to the touch. Because bunions are progressive, they will never go away and usually get worse over time.

Although you cannot reverse bunions, there are treatment options available to relieve bunion symptoms.

Bunion Treatment

Living with bunions doesn’t mean you have to live in pain. There are several different treatment options out there — surgical and non-surgical depending on the severity of your bunion pain. 

Non-Surgical Bunion Treatments

Changing your shoes — Loose footwear with a wide toe box and supportive soles can relieve bunion pain.

Anti-inflammatory medicines ibuprofen, Motrin, or naproxen can reduce inflammation and relieve pain caused by bunions.

Bunion shields — or other shoe inserts may help relieve the pressure put on bunions in closed-toe shoes.

Bunion physical therapy — to help relieve pain, stretch the toe, and improve your function.

Splints — if a bunion is still in the early stages of forming, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend wearing a splint to help keep the toe in place while stretching the soft tissues. 

Corticosteroid Injections — occasionally a bunion is caused by an inflamed bursa at the joint of the toe. These injections can treat inflamed bursa around the joint.

Surgical Bunion Treatment

Unfortunately, the only way to truly change a bunion structure is by undergoing surgery.  

There are three common goals of bunion surgery — it is not a cosmetic surgery: 

  1. To realign the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint that is at the base of your big toe. 
  2. Relieve pain caused by a bunion.
  3. Correcting deformities of the bones that make up the affected toe.

Depending on the severity of the bunion there are different procedures that a doctor may perform, including:

  1. Osteotomy during this procedure the doctor makes tiny cuts in the bones of the toe in order to realign the joint.
  2. Arthrodesis — arthrodesis is typically only performed if a patient has severe bunions or arthritis and for patients who have undergone other unsuccessful bunion surgeries
  3. Resection Arthroplasty — in this procedure, the surgeon will remove the damaged portion of the joint, increasing the space between the bones of the toe.

Because this procedure can affect the “push off power” of the big toe, it isn’t a recommended treatment unless absolutely necessary.

Bunion Physical Therapy Exercises – Will PT Help?

Do you need physical therapy after bunion surgery and are wondering if it will actually help?

Or have you been avoiding surgery and curious if physical therapy can help reduce the symptoms caused by your bunions? 

Either way, you’ve come to the right place — bunion physical therapy plays a large role in managing symptoms and can help with rehab after surgery.

Physical Therapy After Bunion Surgery

Your doctor will likely recommend post-op physical therapy in order to restore range-of-motion and foot strength. 

After bunion surgery, you will likely be required to wear a protective boot or shoe for at least four weeks. During those four weeks, you will need to keep pressure off your foot during bunion surgery recovery.

Physical therapy teaches patients how to use crutches, a cane, or a walker during this time. 

Physical Therapy to Manage Bunion Symptoms

A physical therapist can also teach you different ways to manage the discomfort caused by bunions. They may teach you how to use:

  • Periodic foot elevation
  • Ice pack/heating techniques
  • Self-massage 
  • How to apply therapeutic compression tape 
  • Balance training

During bunion physical therapy, your provider will teach you exercises that can help reduce symptoms and help you recover after surgery. 

What does bunion physical therapy involve?

  • Hands-on therapy — massages and manual therapy that helps manipulate your toe and ankle to improve the toe’s position and range-of-motion.
  • Balance training
  • Exercise — tailored to your unique situation 
  • Symptom management
  • Activity training
  • Instruction on using orthotics and other assistive devices as needed.

By working with your physical therapist, you will develop an exercise and rehabilitation plan for your unique needs. 

Best Bunion Exercises

Bunion physical therapy exercises can be done as preventative measures, as well as rehabilitation after surgery. 

Common Exercises to Relieve & Prevent Bunions

Performing certain exercises on a regular basis can prevent bunions from forming and can treat bunions that have already formed. Some of these bunion stretches and exercises include:

  • Toe Abductors — these help strengthen the muscles that control side-to-side movements.
  • Toe Extensors — extensors may help slow down the joint enlargement process. 
  • Downward Facing Dog — this yoga pose strengthens your feet while stretching your toes, calves, and hamstrings.
  • Heel Raises — these stretch and strengthen the muscles that control your big toe.

Common Exercises After Bunion Surgery

After bunion surgery, there are a number of exercises and stretches a Doctor of Physical Therapy may have you slowly incorporate into your daily routine in order to regain strength and range-of-motion in the affected area. 

Some of these common exercises and stretches are:

  • Basic foot manipulation — doing these stretches can help you regain toe movement
  • Foot “letters” or “ABCs” — during this stretch, you are supposed to imagine you are drawing out letters with your foot. This strengthens not only your foot but your ankle too. This is especially important after surgery. 
  • Aerobic Exercise — riding a bike and swimming (once approved by your doctor) are great exercises to incorporate small amounts of weight-bearing exercises into your daily routine to help strengthen your muscles without aggravating your foot and ankle. 

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Bunions

If you’re suffering from the severe pain and discomfort that comes with having bunions, In Motion O.C. is here to help.  

It’s our mission to help people find relief and get back to living their best lives. 

Hundreds of patients have trusted us to help them through the same bunion pain you’re experiencing.

Ready to let us help? Click here to request a free consultation.

*This information about physical therapy for bunion pain was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.