How To Stretch Shoes Wider For Bunion Relief


Bunions can lead to pain, frustration, and annoyance when your once-comfortable shoes start to feel tight. But did you know there are ways to stretch shoes wider for bunion relief?

While we recommend investing in a new pair of shoes with a wider toe box and excellent support, sometimes that’s not possible at the time. In these cases, you can try some shoe-stretching methods to keep you comfortable until you get another pair of shoes.

But successful shoe stretching depends on choosing the right method and using some care when you do it. Here’s how to correctly stretch your shoes.

How Do You Know if Your Shoes Are Too Tight?

Research shows that ⅔ of people are wearing shoes that are too tight! You might be one of them if you’re experiencing:

  • Pain or discomfort whenever you wear the shoes
  • Numb, burning, or tingling feelings in your feet or toes
  • Blisters or calluses that appear regularly
  • Redness or irritation on the skin of the feet
  • What feels like excessive swelling of the feet
  • Trouble walking or standing for long periods
  • Pressure on the top or back of your foot
  • Crowded toes that can’t move freely

Can Wearing Tight Shoes Cause Bunions?

Possibly, yes. Wearing too-tight shoes can lead to bunions over time. This is because shoes that are too tight for your feet force your toes into an unnatural position.

The big toe may be gently pushed out of alignment. You might not notice it or feel any pain or discomfort upfront. But over time, if this continues, the toe will move out of place and begin to “set” in that position.

This is more likely to happen if you wear tight shoes regularly. The possibility of a bunion developing can also be increased by wearing shoes without proper support for your arch.

Avoid high heels, shoes with pointed toes, and any footwear that doesn’t fit properly, both in width or length.

How to Stretch Shoes to Fit a Bunion

If you have bunions, one way to make your shoes fit is to stretch them in the toe box area.

Here are a few different methods to try. We recommend only doing one at a time to see which method works best for your shoes.

Use a Shoe Stretcher

A shoe stretcher is probably the safest and easiest way to stretch shoes wider for bunion relief. Shoe stretchers can be adjusted incrementally, which means there’s less chance of accidentally stretching them too far. However, it will take a couple of days to do it right.

Two-Way Shoe Stretcher

Two-way shoe stretchers like the FootFitter Premium Professional are fairly simple to use. Apply a shoe stretcher liquid to your shoe. Insert the shoe stretcher and turn the crank until the shoe widens a little.

It’s recommended to turn the crank one full revolution every 8 hours and leave it for two days before removing the shoe stretcher.

One of the best things about this kind of stretcher is that it comes with small metal pieces that can be inserted into the holes on the stretcher. These place extra pressure on very specific parts of the shoe, so you should be able to target the area of the bunion.

This might be the easiest method for most people. Dampen the newspaper and crumple it up into tight, small balls. Stuff them into the shoes, filling them as much as possible without causing them to distort.

Ball and Ring Shoe Stretcher

Ball-and-ring devices like the TOFL Bunion Pain Relief Shoe Stretcher are great for targeted stretching. They work better on leather or suede uppers than mesh.

Place a small towel or Ziploc bag over the shoe to protect its finish. Insert the end with the ball and place the ring on the area of the upper that needs to be stretched. Press the arms together and apply pressure. You should see the leather begin to stretch.

You can usually clamp it like this overnight or at least for a few hours to allow the stretch to “settle in.”

Shoe Stretching Spray

A shoe stretching spray should be used with every stretching method. But one of the simplest ways is to spray your shoes, put them on, and walk around.

The spray soaks in and molds to your feet, stretching the shoes to fit your feet. Remove the laces before applying the spray, allow the shoes to dry, then put the laces back on and wear them.

You may get different shoe sprays for different types of uppers, so be careful when shopping to get the right one for the material your shoe is made of.

Freeze a Bag of Water Inside the Shoe

This one is pretty easy and needs no fancy equipment. Simply fill a bag (or 2) with water, double-check it’s sealed, and place it in your shoes. Make sure it’s placed right in the toe box where the shoe needs to be stretched for bunions.

We recommend placing it in a small towel or paper towel to protect the materials inside the shoe. Place it in the freezer overnight, and the water will expand slightly as it freezes, widening your shoes.

Heat and Stretch With Socks

You can slip your shoes onto your feet while wearing tight socks, then heat the shoes up using a blow dryer. It’s a good idea only to heat the parts of the shoe that are tight because heat can damage some materials.

The thick socks will help expand the upper slightly, giving you more space for your bunion without chafing or pressure.

Rubbing Alcohol and Water

If you don’t have shoe stretching spray, create your own by mixing water and rubbing alcohol in a 50/50 mixture. You can rub this or spray it onto your shoes and then wear your shoes immediately so that as it dries, it molds to your feet.

This is best on natural fabrics and not synthetic materials. Be careful not to overdo it, there is a potential it can damage your shoes.

Stuff Your Shoes With Newspaper

This might be the easiest method for most people. Dampen the newspaper and crumple it up into tight, small balls. Stuff them into the shoes, filling them as much as possible without causing them to distort.

Allow the shoes to sit like this for 24 hours at least, if not 48 hours. Then, remove the newspapers and try the shoes on. If they’re still too tight, you can repeat the whole process.

Visit a Professional Cobbler

If all else fails, take your shoes to a professional. The worst they can do is tell you you need new shoes. But they may just be able to help you stretch your shoes enough to wear them without pain.

Mistakes to Avoid When Stretching Your Shoes

Stretching can be permanent, so you’ll need to be careful. Avoid these common mistakes.

Rushing the Process

Stretching takes time. Trying to rush the process can cause damage to the shoes. Set aside time to stretch the shoes gradually, and your shoes will be less damaged.

Applying Too Much Force

Stretching your shoes can be a delicate process. If you apply too much force when stretching, you can accidentally tear the material or permanently alter its shape.

Some manufacturers will offer stretching guidelines, so check this beforehand. If they don’t, opt for gentle, less drastic methods and err on the side of less force.

Skipping a Test Fit

Don’t forget to test the fit after every stretching session. Testing regularly can help you avoid accidental overstretching. This might take a little more time, but it’s worth checking the fit often before you go too far.

Overstretching Your Shoes

Overstretching is a common mistake, and unfortunately, it’s not always reversible. Wearing shoes that are too loose can cause chafing, blisters, and discomfort.

Stretch your shoes in smaller increments than you think is needed. Go slowly until you get them to the right size.

Not Using Shoe Stretching Spray

Applying a shoe stretching spray softens the material before stretching, which can help it to stretch more easily and with less chance of damage. Don’t skip this step—it could negatively affect your shoes and feet.

Forgetting to Protect Areas of the Shoes

Some stretching methods, especially those involving heat or cold, can damage the more delicate materials of the shoes. Take care to protect the vulnerable areas on your shoes; for example, place a plastic bag or a piece of paper towel between your shoe and the ice bag when using the freezing method.

Can You Stretch Your Running Shoes?

You can stretch your running shoes using the methods above, but it’s not advised. Running shoes have special support that can be damaged by stretching methods, which would ruin your shoes and may cause you to alter your gait without even realizing it.

It’s best to buy running shoes that fit you and your bunion comfortably and provide the right support and cushioning.

Can You Run With Bunions?

You can run with bunions, but you’ll need to take steps to protect your feet and prevent the bunions from getting worse.

These steps may include changing your shoes to accommodate the bunion better, using orthotics, and taking the time to treat your foot after every run.

Over-the-counter painkillers can help, although we recommend finding alternate ways to treat your bunions. Running with painkillers can lead you to push yourself too hard without realizing it, so icing after a run, elevating your feet, and taping are good steps to take for protecting your feet.

If you have severe pain from your bunions, you may need to check with your doctor before starting to run with your bunions.

What Type of Running Shoes Should I Wear With Bunions?

The best running shoes for bunions are ones with a wide toe box. This will give your forefoot a bit of space, and a stretchy upper will also help to accommodate the bunion.

Choosing a shoe with good arch support will also help reduce the bunion’s pressure. You may want to go for a shoe with a removable insole, just in case you need more support than your shoes offer.

How Does a Bunion Affect You While Running?

While you can run with a bunion, you might not be able to run as well as you used to. Here’s how a bunion affects your running.

Your Foot Strike May Change

The natural stride is to land on the heel and roll the foot onto the ball of the foot, pushing off directly from that joint. When you have a bunion, you may unintentionally change your foot strike to avoid the pressure on that big toe joint.

Changing your foot strike could have negative effects on your form. You may be unusually moving your feet and legs, placing strain on certain parts of the feet that wouldn’t normally be under stress.

This can lead to pain you didn’t have before, but it could also reduce your running efficiency as you waste energy every time you take a step.

Can Reduce Your Ability to Push Off

Pushing off requires you to lean heavily on that painful joint. On the push-off, the big toe joint takes on almost half of the load, so there’s a lot of weight on it.

When you have pain or discomfort in that joint, you won’t likely push off as hard as usual, which lowers your running performance. A weaker push-off means you may struggle to gain momentum and increase speed.

May Lead to Balance Issues

Any kind of instability in your feet can lead to balance problems. In turn, balance problems can lead to poor form, increasing your risk of injury and making it more likely that you’ll bump the sore spot as you run.

Pain and Discomfort

You can’t avoid placing pressure on the forefoot when you run, even when wearing well-cushioned shoes. Any kind of pain when you’re running can take away your enjoyment of running.

Tips to Help You Run With Bunions

Taking some time to prepare for running with bunions can make a big difference to how comfortable you feel and how much pain you feel during your run. Try these.

Adjust the Lacing on Your Shoes

Something as simple as lacing your shoes differently can relieve pressure on the bunion and ease pain. Just removing the shoelace from the eyelet closest to the bunion can free up space in the forefoot, preventing your upper from being pulled tight against the bunion.

Or, leave the top two eyelets open completely and lace your shoes from the second eyelets, which leaves more space in the forefoot.

Use Bunion Pads or Sleeves

Using a bunion pad in your shoe can cushion the inflamed joint, reducing pain and chafing. Use it in conjunction with a lacing technique and you may see better benefits. A bunion sleeve may be easier as it stays in place on your foot more easily than a bunion pad.

Tape Your Toe

Taping your big toe can help relieve pain when running. Use KT tape so you can get a good enough stretch to realign the toe.

You’ll need two strips of KT tape, one cut in half, with the ends rounded. For the first strip, anchor it to the side of the big toe, right over the bunion. With moderate stretch, pull it down the medial side of the foot and anchor it around the back of the heel with no stretch.

Take one half-strip and break the backing in the center. With a moderate stretch, place it directly on the bunion and stick down both ends. Do the same with the second strip, just slightly below the first one.

Don’t forget to run the tape vigorously so the adhesive activates and sticks to your skin properly. This will support the bunion and prevent it from being jarred with each step on your run.

Run On Softer Surfaces

Choose the track, trail, or a grass surface over hard surfaces like concrete. This makes a huge difference to your joints—including the big toe joint—as it reduces impact force and minimizes jarring.

Use Orthotics

An orthotic can help align your joints better and lower pressure on the forefoot, especially on the bunion.

Ice and Rest

Ice your bunions and rest them for at least a few days after your run. Icing the bunions will help to reduce inflammation, lowering pain and keeping swelling to a minimum. You can also try to raise your foot above the level of your heart while you’re icing it, which will help it to recover faster.

Monitor Your Bunions

Keep an eye on your bunions and ensure they aren’t worsening. If they’re feeling more painful, getting more deformed, or worried that they seem to be getting worse, get them checked by a doctor before you run again.

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.