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Updated: Nov 1, 2022

And your mom and your grandmother also had bunions and had surgery, and you went to a podiatrist who says you’ll eventually need surgery too. Or, your friend had bunion surgery…but then a few years later the bunion came back. Can you tell I’ve heard these things a couple of times?

So, what exactly is a bunion? A lot of people are surprised when I explain to them that it’s not just a bone spur forming on the outside of their big toe. If you look at the picture on the right, you can see that the bones that make up the big toe have literally shifted compared to the picture on the left. As always, our question is WHY?

X-ray of normal foot

X-ray of foot with bunion

Some potential bunion causes/factors:

  • Tight, narrow shoes

  • Underlying ligament laxity/flexible body type

  • Weakness in the muscles of the feet, hip, core

So, your toe hurts, your foot doesn’t look so pretty, and surgery has been mentioned. We need to know why the bunion(s) formed in the first place to either A. ideally avoid surgery or B. make sure it is successful.

Now, grab your big toe, move it up/down and especially side to side. Is it relatively flexible? Great! Pretty stiff? We can still try to work with that. Here are some general recommendations to begin to decrease pain, improve strength, and maybe even make your foot look a bit better over time. Before and after photos encouraged!

*Disclaimer* we are not endorsing nor have any affiliation with the products below, images are to serve purely for illustration purposes

  • Purchase some toe spacers

    • There are a million different brands, price points, and designs - some are more appropriate for people than others based on what their feet are like. I usually send people straight to Amazon to look for something like the picture below to get started! I recommend beginning by wearing for about 20-30 minutes (barefoot) while just relaxing at home, building up to wearing them more frequently throughout the day

  • Look into wide toe box shoewear

    • Buying a “wide shoe” is not the same as a wide toe box!

      • Shoes with a wide toe box allow for way more room at the front of the shoe so that the toes can spread

      • Simply buying a shoe with a wide width can give more room through the heel and arch, but not necessarily up near the toes

      • This recommendation goes for athletic, dress, and casual shoes!

Wide width sneaker:

Wide toe box sneaker:


Toe extension and abduction stretching

As bunions progress, often times we start to lose these motions. We want to work on keeping that flexibility, we need it for walking without pain or compensation!

Toe abduction strengthening

Honestly, this is even trickier than other “toe yoga” exercises! But I promise you have muscles who’s main job is to perform this motion! Working through this will help restore control of your toe and is also good for strengthening your arches!

In the first part of the video it probably doesn’t look like I’m doing anything - I’m performing an isometric movement, pushing my big toe out to the side into my finger. This can help find and wake up those little abductor muscles!

Then, I go into more active movement, using my finger as a marker of where I’m trying to bring my toe. Try to keep the other toes relaxed - you can see this is hard for me!

Toe abduction with heel raise

Take a small theraband, a thick rubber band, several smaller rubber bands like I have, etc. to tie those big toes together and pull them away from the rest of your toes! This will hold them in a better position to use all those muscles. Then, go into your regular heel raises. This could also be done wearing toe spacers!

Single leg balance with toe abduction

Here what I’m demonstrating is planting that big toe on the ground and then twisting the rest of my foot, so that I’m setting my toes spread nice and wide before going into balancing on one leg. This makes you work again using all those foot muscles to balance vs. scrunching up your toes and foot. This could alternatively be done in toe spacers as well!

Questions? Progress? Difficulty? Rehab should be fun and certainly helpful - let us help! Contact us at (857)-267-6033 for further information and appointment scheduling!


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