While footwear alone is not likely to fully correct or heal a bunion, it can certainly have a massive impact on any bunion-related discomfort you experience, as well as whether or not your bunion progresses and becomes more severe. The right footwear can also give you the best possible shot at rehabilitating your toes and restoring optimal foot health. So, paying close attention to the footwear you use on a daily basis, especially in a weight-bearing situation, is crucial in keeping your bunion at bay and working to resolve it over time—the latter of which is possible with the appropriate care and attention (and, in most cases, without surgery).
Before we explore this topic further, a quick refresher on bunions for those who may be new to the blog is in order: While some believe bunions to be a bony growth near the first metatarsophalangeal (MP) joint (i.e., the joint between the big toe's proximal phalanx and its corresponding metatarsal bone), they are actually a partial dislocation of this joint caused by the tapering toe boxes (and other injurious forces) present in conventional footwear. Indeed, the tapering toe boxes so commonly found in almost all shoes squeeze the toes into an unnatural wedge shape, and over prolonged periods with the big toe held in this configuration, a slow, creeping dislocation at the big toe’s MP joint occurs, leading to the appearance of a prominent bump or protuberance at the base of the big toe.
So, one of the keys to addressing bunions is finding footwear that, at the very least, does no additional harm to the first MP joint and largely stays out of the way of the foot. The best shoes for bunions should incorporate a toe box that is sufficiently wide to not only accommodate the bunion deformity without rubbing against it, but also to provide the necessary space for the toes when they are in their future healthiest possible alignment; that is, with toes straight and splayed well apart, such that they are in line with their corresponding metatarsal bones. Thus, optimal footwear for those with bunions (or bunionettes, for that matter) should leave open the possibility for correcting the bunion with a toe separator, such as Correct Toes. Such a device, which gently guides the toes into their normal anatomical position, is essential for those looking to correct a bunion using natural, noninvasive means.
The recommendations listed in our article entitled How to Shop for Shoes provide a good starting point for anyone looking to find truly foot-healthy footwear, and the recommendations there stand for individuals hoping to address an existing bunion or prevent a bunion deformity from getting worse. Another resource from our site that can be quite helpful in finding the best possible shoes for bunions is this one, which discusses the importance of the Shoe Liner Test and demonstrates how to perform it. Incorporating the Big Toe Stretch and other bunion reversal strategies into your daily foot care routine is another essential step you can take in achieving bunion correction over time. And, of course, the men’s and women’s footwear we feature on our site are all good examples of shoes that will accommodate most sets of feet (often including those with bunions) and promote a return to optimal foot health.
Note: Because of the sometimes significant prominence associated with a bunion, some folks may need to use a tool such as the FootFitter Shoe Stretcher to create a small “outpouch” in a given shoe’s upper to create the additional space needed to accommodate the bunion and prevent rubbing. While this tool stretches a shoe’s upper, it does not reduce the longevity of the shoe or compromise the shoe’s integrity in any way.
Like most foot problems, there are differing levels of severity associated with bunions, and though most bunions respond positively to the conservative treatment methods mentioned above, there are some (rare) instances where a surgical correction may be the only option. Please also bear in mind that it usually takes a long time for bunions to form (decades in some cases), and so it can take some time to begin seeing results when using foot-healthy shoes, toe separators, and other natural tools and strategies. That said, if you have an existing bunion, there is every reason to be hopeful that you can, ultimately, find relief from any pain or discomfort and restore proper toe alignment and function. Consider consulting a local foot care provider to discuss the approaches that might be best for you and your specific circumstances.