Bunions can be painful. You know this if you have them, and especially if you have them and also run. There are some easy steps you can take, though, to work around bunion pain. Below, we’ll discuss everything that you need to know about bunions and how to deal with them.
We’ll go over different reasons people get bunions, ways to treat bunions, and various tips about going running with bunions. By the end, you’ll know how to make running with bunions more comfortable.
What Are Bunions?
Some scientific trivia to start: the scientific name of bunions is hallus valgus. You might not have known that, but we all know a bunion when we see one: something sticking out from your big toe. Bunions occur when the first metatarsal bone pushes outward, forcing the big toe to lean toward the second toe.
Your skin around the bunion could turn red and feel sore, but that doesn’t have to happen. Smaller bunions on your little toe can also form, and they are known as bunionettes. They are protruding bumps that form at the base of the little toe.
What Are Symptoms of Bunions?
Unlike some medical conditions, the symptoms of bunions are pretty clear. If you have a bump at the bottom of your big toe, then you have a bunion.
It may or may not be accompanied by redness and/or swelling. If your big toe has significantly turned toward your second toe, you may have corns or calluses from them rubbing against one another.
Finally, your big toe’s movement will become more limited. That might not seem like much, but toe flexibility is necessary to walking, running, and balance in general. This reduced flexibility may cause pain that ebbs and flows depending on whether you’re standing or sitting down.
What Causes Bunions?
As with many medical conditions, bunions can be caused by a variety of factors. However, the most likely cause is wearing shoes that are too narrow, especially with pointed toes. That being said, if you stand for long periods of time, that may also cause bunions.
Likewise, if you have low arches or flat feet, or struggle with loose joints and tendons or weak foot muscles, you could be at a greater risk for bunions. Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy that can flatten the arch of your foot, you might be particularly prone if you’re about to give birth or just have.
More broadly, women are significantly more likely to get bunions than men. Part of the reason is because women are much more likely to wear high heels. If you’re a female professional who frequently wears high heels, you’re at a greater risk for bunions.
Bunions are also more likely for older individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. If you have this inflammatory condition, you do have a greater risk of developing bunions, especially if you tend to wear narrow shoes.
Finally, bunions tend to run in families. Particular foot types have a greater likelihood of getting them, so your genetics can play a role in whether you have a higher chance for bunions.
If no one in your family has ever had bunions, you probably won’t get them if you don’t tend to wear shoes with a narrow toe box, but it could still happen to you.
Are Runners More Likely to Get Bunions?
No, runners do not have a proclivity toward bunions any more than your average individual. That being said, some running shoes are designed with a narrow toe box, with some brands and models fitting far more snuggly than others.
ASICS is known for having a narrow, snug fit, while Altra is known for its wide toe box that provides significantly more room than other brands on the market. Some people call them clown shoes based on the wide toe box, but it makes a difference if you have bunions.
This means that while runners on the whole aren’t more likely to get bunions than others, you might be more susceptible if you wear shoes that are too narrow for your feet. In other words, improperly fitting shoes is the issue.
In addition, wearing shoes that have a heel drop – meaning that the heel is higher than the toe by a certain number of millimeters – also can increase the likelihood of bunions. If the heel-to-toe drop is greater than 11mm, then you’re running with elevated heels and that can hurt after logging a lot of miles.
Does Running Make Bunions Worse?
While running isn’t the cause of bunions, it can make them worse if you have narrow shoes or shoes with a high heel drop and are logging tons of miles. This will just put more pressure on your toes, which already happens when you run anyway.
If you tend to do a lot of hills (specifically downhill), your toes are going to be pressed up against the front of your shoe already. If you have bunions to start, that will make it worse. Similarly, if you run a lot, you’re putting additional pressure on your toes and bunions.
What Are Treatments for Bunions?
The good news is that bunions can be fairly easily treated at home. A serious bunion problem might require a doctor, but you can start at home. The first thing to do is to make sure that you’re wearing the right shoes for your feet.
If you just switched to a new brand of running shoes and developed bunions, there’s a good chance that you might have gotten shoes that are too narrow. Switch back to your old brand or find a wider option in the new brand.
You also want to think more broadly than just your running shoes. If you wear high heels a lot, or are on your feet all day as a teacher or nurse, you might need to upgrade non-running shoes as well.
First, if you’re in pain, then you should take some painkillers to make sure that an uncomfortable bunion doesn’t ruin your day. Using painkillers like ibuprofen will help alleviate the pain temporarily.
You also can try using toe spacers on your feet. They help to align the toes properly in a gradual manner. While they aren’t exactly comfortable at first, you will get used to them as you use them increasingly throughout the day.
Make sure that you purchase (or already own) shoes that can work with toe spacers. Wearing spacers throughout the day brings the greatest benefit.
If nothing else has worked, you may need to get surgery for your bunions. That’s really only true in the most severe cases, though. If you can barely walk without experiencing serious pain, or if your bunion is leading to a toe deformity, you might be a candidate for surgery.
How Can I Prevent Bunions?
Unfortunately, bunions are mostly hereditary, and you can’t really prevent them. However, we know that flat feet and loose joints may cause them.
Avoiding high heels and tight running shoes is a good step to make sure that you avoid bunions caused by non-hereditary reasons. If you have to wear heels to meet clients, bring some flats along to the office as well so that you can change into them during downtime.
What are Some Tips for Running With Bunions?
If you have to run with bunions, the good news is that there are ways to make it more comfortable.
First, make sure that you wear good shoes to relieve bunion pain. They should have a wide toe box and a stretchy upper. This will give your toes plenty of room to breathe. Altra, New Balance, and Brooks are good brands for this. Some experts think that a zero-drop shoe will help so that your heel isn’t elevated.
You might also want to consider upgrading your socks. Try purchasing special socks that cushion your bunions. In addition, you could also tie your running shoes differently so that there isn’t as much pressure on the bunion from the laces.
If you want to keep your bunion from rubbing against your shoe, you can attach pads to your bunions for cushioning. You can find these in the vast majority of drugstores. Gel pads or moleskin attached to your bunions will help make your run more comfortable.
If you want to raise your arch and help to position your foot in a better manner—especially if your foot shape is more inclined to developing bunions—you might consider purchasing orthotics.
It’s easiest and cheapest to buy over-the-counter inserts at your local drugstore or Walmart. In some cases, you might need to talk to a podiatrist for custom-made orthotics.
If you want to realign your big toe, you can purchase a bunion splint/brace. This will not only provide pain relief but also help to correct your bunion. The great part about many bunion splints/braces is that they are adjustable to you.
A similar option to using a bunion splint/brace is taping your bunions. Proper taping techniques can help to realign your big toe, and tape allows you to customize realignment for your bunions.
In the end, bunions are as uncomfortable and unattractive as their scientific name—hallus valgus. However, with proper treatment and making sure that you’re wearing the right footwear, you can keep bunions at bay.
Selecting shoes with a wide toe box, strengthening your toes through toe spacers, and using bunion splints and/or tape can help with pain relief and even better, realignment to your toes and help to mitigate the expansion of your bunion.