Running With Bunions – Bunion Pain Relief And Other Tips


Bunions can be painful, make it difficult to find shoes that fit, and making running uncomfortable.

The good news is that there are ways to manage running with bunions. Once you understand how they affect you, what to look out for when running, and ways to relieve bunion pain, you can look forward to running.

What Is a Bunion?

A bunion is a distinctive bony growth that juts out of the inner side of your big toe bone—the metatarsophalangeal joint. As well as the bony lump, the toes are often noticeably pushed out of alignment, with the big toe turning inwards towards the other toes.

Although the bump on the big toe joint is technically just the bone that’s moved out of alignment, it can also become easily inflamed, causing it to look red and swollen in some cases.

As the bunion progresses, extra bone may grow in the affected area, making the bony lump look more pronounced. It may also make the joint more immobile.

In some cases, a bunion can form on the outside of the foot, at the base of the baby toe. This is known as a bunionette and is less common than a bunion.

What Causes Bunions?

There’s no single reason for bunions. But most researchers and doctors agree that the main cause is pressure on the big toe for an extended period of time, which forces it out of alignment. This may be caused by:

  • Repetitive high-impact force, like running
  • Poor foot mechanics, especially if you are flat-footed
  • Wearing shoes that are too small for your feet
  • Shoes with a narrow, tight toe box (high heels especially)
  • Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis
  • A history of foot trauma

Symptoms of Bunions

The most noticeable sign of a bunion is the bony protrusion on the side of your big toe bone. However, there are other symptoms you may experience along with this.

You may experience pain in the side of your toe joint, which might be accompanied by swelling, redness, and inflammation. The pain may worsen when you try to bend your big toe, and you may also have a burning sensation or numbness.

The skin over the bunion may also become thicker, as though a callus has formed over it. As the bunion grows, you may struggle to fit your foot into your shoes, and you may struggle to find new shoes that fit your foot comfortably.

Bunions will progress if not treated. If it grows, it can also push the second toe out of alignment, which may lead to other uncomfortable foot conditions, like hammer toes, claw toes, overlapping toes, and metatarsalgia.

Does Running Cause Bunions?

Running is not a direct cause of bunions, but it can contribute. Runners are often at higher risk of developing bunions, because the high-impact nature of the activity places excess stress on the forefoot.

When paired with tight-fitting running shoes and poor support under your arch, the potential for developing bunions increases significantly.

Can You Run With Bunions?

You don’t have to give up running if you have bunions. While running with bunions can be difficult, if you know what to do for bunion pain relief, then you should be able to continue running.

The key is to spend time understanding the condition and working around it so you can continue to run.

How Do Bunions Affect Runners?

If you’re struggling to run due to a bunion, you may inadvertently alter your gait, leading to poor running form. This can make your running less efficient.

Bunions can also make it much harder to find running shoes that fit properly. If you’ve been dealing with this for a long time, it can be enough to put you off running.

Tips for Running With Bunions

Ready to put bunion pain behind you and improve your running performance? Here are our top tips for running with bunions and without pain or discomfort.

Choose the Right Running Shoes

You need a shoe with a wide toe box to accommodate your bunion. The trick is to find a pair of shoes that can accommodate the foot with the bunion but not feel too wide on the other foot.

Unless you have bunions on both feet, in which case you just need to find a pair that’s comfortable on both feet. A soft, stretchy upper is also a bonus, as it can stretch slightly to accommodate the bump.

The top running shoes for bunions should also have good cushioning to absorb shock and ease strain on the bunion every time you take a step. Also, ensure they fit you properly and have the right kind of support for your arch.

Tape Your Toe

You can use KT tape to provide better support to your arch and to keep the MTP joint in the right place. Taping over the joint can prevent it from moving out of alignment, which can go a long way towards alleviating pain and improving your range of motion.

You can tape your foot for a bunion in multiple ways, so it’s wise to do some of your own research and find something that suits you.

Wear Bunion-Friendly Socks

Bunion socks are designed to cushion the bunion and reduce friction, which can help lower pain. Wearing a bunion-friendly shoe and bunion-friendly socks can significantly reduce your pain levels. If you pair them with tape, you can run with almost no problem at all.

Try a Different Lacing Technique

If your shoes are feeling tight in the toe box, try a different lacing technique that may make some space in the forefoot. One of the best ways to do this without loosening your midfoot is to simply skip the top eyelet and start lacing from one down.

This should allow you more than enough space in the forefoot for your bunion to move and breathe, while still being able to lace the midfoot tightly enough to prevent the fit being sloppy.

Warm Up and Stretch

Warming up is a necessity, as it gets the blood flowing. This means circulation will be flowing well in your sore foot, and improved circulation means less pain and a better range of motion.

Do some foot stretches before your workout. You can do 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio to prepare your body for the workout.

Avoid Running on Hard Surfaces

As far as possible, switch to running on softer running surfaces. This will protect your feet from shock and can help to lower inflammation and alleviate the pain of bunions.

Even if your shoes are well-cushioned, try to run on trails, in parks—on grass—or on the track or treadmill more than you run on hard surfaces.

Practice Good Running Form

It might seem like a heel strike is best for runners with bunions, as you don’t land directly on the painful part of your foot. However, it’s best to work on improving your form, and usually that means working towards a forefoot or midfoot strike.

This is a much more efficient way of running. Heel striking is usually a result of overstriding, which puts you at a higher risk of injury and reduces the effectiveness of your performance.

Actively work towards better running form. Once your body turns a forefoot or midfoot strike into a habit, you’ll run more efficiently, and there’ll most likely be less pressure on the forefoot as you run.

Tips for Bunion Pain Relief After Your Run

When you return from your run, take a few steps to protect your bunions and relieve pain. They’re small steps, but can make a big difference to how your feet feel.

Stretch and Massage Your Foot

Stretching and massaging increases circulation once again and eases up tense muscles in the foot that could be contributing to pain. You can massage your foot yourself or ask someone else to do it for you.

Soak Your Feet in Warm Epsom Salt Water

Epsom salt is an excellent remedy for pain in the body, including muscles and joints. It’s an easily absorbable form of magnesium, which gets right to work in the body.

Fill a foot-sized tub with lukewarm water and add ½ a cup to 1 cup of Epsom salt. Soak your feet for 15 to 30 minutes.

Rest and Elevate Your Foot

After your run, get off your feet for a while. Give them a chance to rest, and elevate them while you rest if you can. This will allow fluid to drain out of the cells and relieve inflammation and pain.

Use a Bunion Pad

A bunion pad is designed to sit between your toe and the upper of your shoe or between your toe and your sock. It provides a comfortable, friction-free barrier that protects your bunion, and they’re relatively cheap.

Wear Comfortable, Supportive Shoes

You can invest in a pair of recovery sandals. These shoes are the best combination of comfort and support, so you can rest your feet and know they’re supported simultaneously.

Toe Spacers and Orthotic Inserts

If you can’t find shoes that are wide enough and supportive enough, consider choosing an orthotic instead. You can find them at most pharmacies or get a custom orthotic that matches your exact foot.

This is usually more affordable than buying new shoes; you can move them from shoe to shoe as needed.

Topical Cream

Pain-relieving creams can also help. Make sure you’re not applying it on broken skin, or you’ll be more susceptible to infection. You might need a prescription from your doctor for this kind of remedy.

Can Foot Exercises Help Bunions?

Yes, doing foot exercises can help reduce the pain of bunions and improve the range of motion in the affected foot. However, they need to be performed regularly and consistently in order to see a positive effect.

Benefits of Foot Exercises for Bunions

Doing foot exercises and stretches regularly can help to loosen up tight tissues, ligaments, and tendons in the foot, which may ease pressure on the MTP joint.

This can contribute to an improved range of motion in the affected foot, which may prevent bunions from worsening.

Foot exercises can also encourage better circulation throughout the foot, improving healing and reducing pain.

Best Foot Exercises for Runners With Bunions

Doing foot and toe exercises can help build strength in your foot, increase your foot stability, and ease the symptoms of bunions. You can do these exercises standing or seated; they only take a few minutes daily.

Toe Curls

Use a towel, a shirt, a blanket, or some thin fabric you can grab with your toes. Place it on the ground in front of you, whether you’re sitting or standing. Place one foot on the towel, making sure there’s more excess towel in front of your toes than behind your heel.

Lift your toes while keeping your heel on the ground. Then, place your foot back down onto the towel, but grab it with your toes and “scrunch” your toes towards you, pulling the towel closer to your body without lifting your heel or dragging it backward.

Repeat this 5 or more times and then switch feet. You can perform this exercise multiple times a day, but take a break if your foot cramps.

Marble Pickups

For this exercise, you will need a small bowl, a towel, and a collection of marbles. Place the marbles on the towel and place the bowl next to the towel. Your goal is to pick each marble up with your toes and move it into the bowl.

You don’t have to rush with this exercise. Take your time and feel your toes gripping each marble as you lift it and move it slowly to the bowl. This will build strength in your toes and the surrounding tissues.

Move all the marbles with one foot, and then empty them out again and do the same with the other foot.

Toe Spread-Outs

This is more of a stretch than an exercise, but it can help develop strength and flexibility in your feet. Sit or stand with your foot flat on the floor. Without lifting your heel or the ball of your foot, spread your toes out and hold them in as spread a position as possible for a few seconds.

Try to push your little toe downwards into the floor without lifting the ball of your foot off the ground. Then, try to push your big toe down into the ground the same way. You can do 5 or more of these repetitions.

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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.