Think you might have bunions? Here’s how to tell and how to treat them (2024)

You may notice a small bump on the inside of your foot that doesn’t seem to go away no matter all the home remedies and creams you try — well, that’s because it’s a bunion. Bunions are a common hereditary deformity that causes bones in your foot to shift around and stick out, giving it a prominent, rounded appearance, according to Dr. Anne Sharkey, a board-certified podiatrist. Living with bunions can affect daily life, but you can manage and minimize symptoms with at-home treatments.

To help you find the right option, I talked to podiatrists about all the options on the market and gathered their recommendations and highly rated options that align with their guidance.

SKIP AHEAD What are bunions | Do bunions hurt? | The best bunion treatments | How to shop for bunion treatments

What are bunions

A bunion is a three-dimensional deformity caused by an unstable foot joint. Because of this, the bones in the front of the foot move out of place, and the big toe is pulled toward the smaller toes. According to Sharkey, this pulling causes the bone at the base of the big toe joint to become prominent and stick out. Sharkey says that in some more severe bunions, you may even see the second toe crossing over or under the big toe.

Do bunions hurt?

Pain from a bunion can be mild, moderate or severe, which can make daily tasks like wearing “normal” shoes difficult, according to board-certified podiatrist Dr. Alexandra Spangler. The big toe drifting laterally can also put pressure on the second toe, which can be a source of pain, she says—more on how bunions affect day-to-day life is below.

Selected.Our top picks

How we picked the best bunion treatments

Our podiatrists say that while over-the-counter options can’t fully rid bunions, they can alleviate pain and offer temporary relief.

  • Function: There are many options to help manage your bunions, including bunion correctors, toe spacers, gels, padding, and even wide-toe box shoes. Each of these serves its own function, such as slowing the progression of bunion growth and reducing inflammation and pain. There is more on the different options below.
  • Price: Since many treatments are available on the market right now, they will all vary across different price points depending on the route you choose. Our list has options as low as $13 and as high as $145.



selectWhy you should shop for walking shoes at night, according to a podiatrist

The best bunion treatments in 2024

Our experts recommend the following treatments to help reduce pain and manage symptoms of bunions.

Caretras Bunion Corrector

What we like

  • Adjustable
  • Non-slip
  • Easy to wash

Something to note

  • Fits US 5-11 foot sizes

If you’re looking to help temporarily realign your bunion, consider using this corrector recommended by Sharkey. It helps relieve discomfort, pressure, and inflammation by constantly applying gentle pressure when on. For the best relief and effectiveness, wear the corrector for 20 minutes each day and gradually increase your usage until you can comfortably wear it for two to three hours. According to the brand, you can wear it while walking or sleeping since the breathable and adjustable splint has a non-slip design.

Zentoes Gel Toe Separators

What we like

  • Comes in a pack of four
  • Conforms to your toes
  • Washable

Something to note

  • May require gentle handling

Sharkey recommends these toe separators because the silicone loop helps ease the pressure of the bunion by straightening the big toe. Reviewers say these separators are extremely comfortable; they forget they’re wearing them and have even used them for post-bunion surgery recovery.

Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel

What we like

  • Easy to apply
  • Non-greasy
  • Works on other joints

Something to note

  • Has a scent
  • Doesn’t absorb quickly
  • Can be toxic to pets if eaten

Although this product is formulated to help topically combat arthritis, this is great for bunion relief, according to Sharkey. This non-greasy cream-gel hybrid can help reduce joint pain and improve mobility and inflammation with the help of ingredients like diclofenac sodium, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), according to the brand. For significant results, apply the gel four times a day to your joints, according to Voltaren.

Hoka Clifton 9

What we like

  • Wide toe box
  • Flexible material
  • Great for walking and running

Something to note

  • Thicker soles

Hoka makes some of our favorite running shoes. This option has a wide toe box, allowing enough room for your feet without causing unnecessary rubbing on your bunion, which can worsen the issue. It’s also made with breathable mesh, an important aspect when shoe shopping since it’s not as tight on the bunion, according to our experts.

Nike Motiva

What we like

  • Wide toe box
  • Arch support
  • Absorbs shock

Something to note

  • Requires breaking in

This 2024 NBC Select Wellness Award winner for best walking shoe is great for daily activities and exercise and has a wide toe box. “These are the most comfortable walking shoes I’ve tried and they make me feel like I’m walking on clouds,” says Rebecca Rodriguez, NBC Select editorial projects manager who has bunions and hasn’t experienced discomfort or tightness while wearing them.



selectBaby Foot’s foot peel took us on a snake-shedding journey for two weeks

How to shop for bunion treatments

While you can’t rid yourself of your bunions at home, great over-the-counter options can help those with mild symptoms. The effectiveness of these treatments depends on each individual’s bunion deformity, biomechanics, lifestyle, and more, but according to Sharkey, they are always worth a try.

Bunion correctors

According to Spangler, bunion correctors are devices that you wear over the bunion or big toe joint to try to reduce the deformity over time. While they can hold your toe in proper alignment while on your foot, they cannot correct the underlying cause of your bunion, so as soon as you remove it, the bunion will shift back out of alignment, says Sharkey.

However, while they may not offer actual correction, they may offer some temporary relief, according to Spangler. “In the end, I tell my patients, if it makes their foot more comfortable, feel free to use it but use it knowing that it is symptom management and not correction of the bunion,” says Sharkey.

Toe spacers

Sharkey says these can be quite helpful for symptom management. This is because they are meant to alleviate pressure caused by the bunion deformity. “Most commonly, I find that patients are using spacers between the big toe and the second toe to reduce pressure occurring at this location,” she says.

Gel cushioning and pads

Gel cushioning helps alleviate pressure at the inside of the big toe joint (over the bunion bump) to help with discomfort from shoe rubbing, according to Sharkey. While this may help with common symptoms for some, others may find little to no relief because the added layer over the bunion can make your shoes feel even tighter, says Spangler.

Wide-toe box shoes

Some changes that can mitigate the effects of bunions include changing shoe gears, such as wearing wide-toe box shoes. By switching to a larger box or shoes with a more accommodating and flexible material (like mesh), those with bunions may feel more relief. If you have bunions, you may experience more pain and have less tolerance for narrow, more rigid materials like dress shoes, says Spangler.

Topical pain relief

If you’re looking to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation, you can soak your feet in Epsom salt baths as this can help your bunions temporarily and alleviate the symptoms, according to Sharkey.

Frequently asked questions

There are many causes and factors that play into the development of bunions. Bunions are hereditary, so because you tend to inherit foot structure, some individuals are more prone to bunions than others, according to Sharkey. This includes hypermobile joints and is found more commonly in those with flat feet and low arches. Because bunions are inherited, you cannot prevent this cause, says Spangler.

According to Spangler, we can perhaps control how fast they progress with supportive shoes and orthotics, and avoid factors aggravating bunion formation, including narrow shoes, pointed shoes and prolonged high-heel use.

According to our experts, bunions are a progressive deformity. The rate at which they progress differs from person to person, with some developing bunions as early as their late childhood and teenage years while others don’t develop them until later in life, according to Sharkey. “I usually tell my patients that most are the result of your biomechanics and foot structure, meaning that it has been slowly happening since you started walking,” she says.

Looking at family history (since bunions are hereditary) can help you see how fast bunions have previously progressed in your family (although this is not always the case.) However, certain factors can speed up the process, such as improper shoe gear and certain activities, according to Sharkey.

Unfortunately, some bunions can cause discomfort and be bothersome during daily activities. Below, Sharkey breaks down a few effects.

  • If your shoes rub on the bunion bump it can be painful, cause swelling and redness and can cause a formation of blisters and calluses at the site of the bump.
  • Wearing certain shoes can cause numbness, tingling and a burning sensation that radiates into the big toe joint.
  • Bunions can cause a painful range of motion.
  • Pain can occur between the big toe and the second toe because the second toe is being pushed out of the way
  • Pain can occur at the ball of the foot. This is due to the rotation of the big toe joint being out of place causing foot pressure to be displaced and falling onto the balls of your foot.

“Surgery is the only way we can properly restore the alignment of the unstable joint that has rotated out of place,” says Sharkey. “We have other ways to help control symptoms but nothing that can correct the bunion outside of the operating room.” Luckily, in the past decade, there have been changes and innovations to help correct bunions and make recovery easier, according to Spangler.

A foot and ankle surgeon would need to evaluate the foot to select the right surgical procedure based on the patient’s age, activity level, and the degree of the deformity, Spangler says. Now there are many different procedures to fix a bunion deformity, and most procedures require making cuts in the bone and using screws or hardware to realign the joint, she says.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts with specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust NBC Select?

Bianca Alvarez is an associate reporter covering skin care, hair care and gift guides. She has also recently written stories on the best foot creams and foot peels. For this story, she interviewed two podiatrists, shared their recommendations, and researched highly rated bunion treatments that met their guidelines.

Catch up on NBC Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

Bianca Alvarez

Bianca Alvarez is an associate reporter at NBC Select.

Think you might have bunions? Here’s how to tell and how to treat them (2024)


Think you might have bunions? Here’s how to tell and how to treat them? ›

The signs and symptoms of a bunion include: A bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint. Corns or calluses — these often develop where the first and second toes rub against each other.

How do I know if a bunion is forming? ›

The signs and symptoms of a bunion include: A bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint. Corns or calluses — these often develop where the first and second toes rub against each other.

What is the fastest way to heal a bunion? ›

You might have to avoid wearing certain shoes or taking long walks. However, there are many nonsurgical treatments for bunion pain you can do at home, including taking over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), applying heat and ice, and wearing special footwear and orthotics.

Can you correct bunions yourself? ›

Bunions are permanent without surgery, but surgery isn't always necessary. In general, bunions need surgery if the pain is severe and conservative treatments don't keep bunions from getting worse, or if it's affecting your activities or causing other foot concerns.

How do you treat early stage bunions? ›

Management and Treatment

Footwear changes: Switching to shoes with wide, deep toe boxes can take pressure off your toes. You may be able to use a stretching device to widen shoes you already own. Bunion pads and taping: Over-the-counter (OTC) bunion pads cushion the area around a bunion to relieve pressure.

What is the average age to get bunions? ›

The pressure from the big toe can force the second toe out of alignment, sometimes overlapping with the third toe. While bunions are most common among adult women, they also can occur in tweens and teens between the ages of 10 and 15. Teenage girls are three times more likely than boys to get bunions.

Why do I suddenly have a bunion? ›

Majority of the time bunions are brought on due to the way your foot functions i.e., the way you walk, run and move around, which have major genetic influences. Your body then compensates for this by developing bunions due to the added pressure on your big toe joint.

Is walking barefoot good for bunions? ›

Going barefoot is ideal in the beginning stages of bunions. When barefoot, the joints of the toes will get stronger, an important part of good foot health.

Can you stop a bunion from progressing? ›

Certainly, one of the best ways to prevent a bunion from getting worse is to see your podiatrist as early as possible. Bunions tend to respond better with early treatment, while the toe joint is still flexible.

Do toe spacers help bunions? ›

Bunion toe spacers cannot cure bunions, but they can help manage pain and prevent further damage to the toe joint.

Can I straighten my bunion without surgery? ›

In most cases, bunions can be treated nonsurgically. One of the podiatrists from our team can examine your bunion(s) and recommend a conservative treatment which includes one or more of the following: Custom shoe orthotics (inserts) that relieve pressure on the joint and align your weight in a more beneficial way.

Does Vicks help bunions? ›

Sounds crazy, right? But, according to the NIH, menthol and camphor — two of the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub — may help soothe inflamed joints and muscles by acting as a topical anesthetic. Treating bunions with Vicks may provide temporary, superficial pain relief.

What is the best bunion corrector? ›

Selected. Our top picks
  • Best bunion corrector. Caretras Bunion Corrector. $undefined. $24.99. Amazon. ...
  • Best toe spacer. Zentoes Gel Toe Separators. $undefined. $12.99. Amazon. ...
  • Best OTC pain relief. Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel. $undefined. $38.48. Sam's Club. ...
  • Best wide box shoe. Nike Motiva Walking Shoe. $undefined. $119.99.
Apr 9, 2024

What shrinks bunions? ›

Ways to shrink or prevent bunions from worsening include wearing supportive footwear, taking pain medications or using pain-relieving topical creams, doing bunion stretches and exercises, and using ice packs, warm soaks, and gentle massage.

How did I cured my bunions naturally? ›

  1. Massage and Exercise Your Feet. One of the simplest ways to treat your bunions without surgery is to, in fact, exercise your feet. ...
  2. Take a Paracetamol. ...
  3. Soak Your Feet in a Foot Bath. ...
  4. Ice Your Feet. ...
  5. Put Your Feet Up! ...
  6. Try Castor Oil. ...
  7. Try Bunion Pads. ...
  8. Try Bunion Splints.
Jul 20, 2022

What do early bunions look like? ›

What Are The First Signs of a Bunion? Bunion symptoms often only appear after months or years of the big to working its way inward towards its next-door neighbor. As time progresses, a sensitive bony bump that looks swollen and red will emerge at the site of the joint on the inside of your foot.

Can you reverse a bunion forming? ›

While non-surgical treatments can be effective for managing bunion pain and preventing them from getting worse, in some extreme cases, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is the only way to answer 'yes' to the question 'Can bunions be reversed.

How do bunions start to form? ›

Bunions usually develop slowly. Pressure on the big toe joint causes the big toe to lean toward the second toe. Over time, the normal position of the bone, tendons, and ligaments changes, resulting in the bunion deformity. Often, this deformity gradually worsens over time and may make it painful to wear shoes or walk.

What are the 5 stages of a bunion? ›

There are different stages of a bunion which are shown below: A – Grade 1 (no deformity); B – grade 2 (mild deformity); C – grade 3 (moderate deformity); D – grade 4 (severe deformity). Conservative options have been reported across the literature with mixed results.

Does it hurt when a bunion is forming? ›

You may observe a little redness, plantar fasciitis, heel pain, a stiff big toe, or trouble walking in tight-fitting shoes. Though simply annoying at the beginning of formation, they are often not painful at that point. But as bunions progress, the area becomes increasingly swollen, red, shiny, and tender to the touch.


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