Simple foot exercises, like toe stretches, can help relieve the foot pain associated with bunions. Here are easy movements to practice every day.
Bunions occur when the tissue at the base of your big toe becomes swollen, forming a large bump on the side of your foot. Bunions can cause intense foot pain and may eventually lead to arthritis. Fortunately, the majority of bunions can be managed without surgery.
Special foot exercises “will not get rid of the bunion because the bunion is a biomechanical deformity, but they can relieve symptoms and increase flexibility,” explains Khurram Khan, DPM, assistant professor of podiatric medicine, New York College of Podiatric Medicine in Manhattan.
The Benefits of Foot Exercises for Bunions
Non-surgical strategies, such as physical therapy exercises, can help to slow the progression of your bunion. “You always want to start out with conservative therapy,” notes Dr. Khan. “You never want to jump into surgery.”
Foot exercises and toe stretches for bunions can help keep the joint between your big toe and the rest of your foot mobile, maintaining flexibility and strengthening the muscles that control your big toe.
Here are exercises that may benefit people with bunions:
Toe stretches. Stretching out your toes can help keep them limber and offset foot pain. To stretch your toes, point your toes straight ahead for 5 seconds and then curl them under for 5 seconds. Repeat these stretches 10 times. These exercises can be especially beneficial if you also have hammertoes, or chronically bent toes, in addition to a bunion.
Toe flexing and contracting. Khan also recommends pressing your toes against a hard surface such as a wall, to flex and stretch them; hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat three to four times. Then flex your toes in the opposite direction; hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat three to four times.
Stretching your big toe. Using your fingers to gently pull your big toe over into proper alignment can be helpful as well, says Khan. Hold your toe in position for 10 seconds and repeat three to four times.
Resistance exercises. Khan additionally recommends resistance exercises for your big toe. Wrap either a towel or belt around your big toe and use it to pull your big toe toward you while simultaneously pushing forward, against the towel, with your big toe.
Ball roll. To massage the bottom of your foot, sit down, place a golf ball on the floor under your foot, and roll it around under your foot for two minutes. This can help relieve foot strain and cramping.
Towel curls. You can strengthen your toes by spreading out a small towel on the floor, curling your toes around it, and pulling it toward you. Repeat five times. Khan says that gripping objects with your toes like this can help keep your foot flexible.
Picking up marbles. Another gripping exercise you can perform to keep your foot flexible is picking up marbles with your toes. Do this by placing 20 marbles on the floor in front of you and use your foot to pick the marbles up one by one and place them in a bowl.
Walking along the beach. Whenever possible, spend time walking on sand. This can give you a gentle foot massage and also help strengthen your toes. Khan notes that this is especially beneficial for people who have arthritis associated with their bunions.
Khan advises his patients to perform foot exercises for their bunions every day, ideally in the morning and at night. He suggests doing the exercises at a convenient time for you, such as during commercial breaks while you are watching television. Once you get into the habit, it will be easy to do them on a regular basis.