Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think (2024)

Do you suffer from bunion pain? Have you been told that surgery was your only option for relief? If so, then we may have some good news for you: a podiatrist in Portland believes gentler, simpler options may be available.

Dr. Ray McClanahan isa leader in "conservative foot care" treatments and believes that most foot ailments can be prevented and/or treated be restoring natural function (i.e., barefoot-like movement). He is also the inventor of Correct Toes—simple, over-the-counter toe spacers that may help treat a multitude of foot problems.

Bear in mind that Dr. McClanahan's reasearch, and what you are about to read, challenges beliefs held by most traditional podiatrists.

What is a Bunion?

Bunions are among the most common and most painful foot ailments out there. Also known by the medical name hallux abductovalgus, a bunion occurs when your big toe points toward your second toe, causing a bump or prominence to develop on the inside edge of your big toe and first metatarsal bone. Symptoms include redness in the affected area, bursitis, blistering and/or callus formation over the bunion and nerve damage that may include numbness and/or sharp pain. If left untreated, the pain can also spread to nearby joints. Bunions affect women far more often than men, and that may not be a coincidence, according to McClanahan.

Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think (1)

Who has toes shaped like this?

What Causes Bunions?

While many factors may increase your chances of developing bunions, including arthritis, limb length inequalities and genetics, McClanahan believes conventional shoes that make women's feet look small and pointy may be the prime culprit. Fashionable women's shoes (and some men's shoes) tend to have tapered toe boxes, which push big toes inward. Raised heels and arch supports, also popular among conventional shoes, may also contribute to the development of bunions. Wearing these kinds of shoes for many years can lead to deformity in the feet, in which the big toe literally stays bent growing toward the second toe. When this happens, the point where the bunion occurs continues to protrude further. Think of it like a playground see-saw: when one end goes up, the other goes down. In the same way, when the upper bones of your big toe are pushed in, the lower bones are pushed out.

In cultures of people who routinely go barefoot, toes are usually the widest part of feet and bunions are extremely rare. In our western culture, however, the ball of the foot is commonly the widest point and bunions, located right at that spot, are quite common.

Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think (2)

Treatment Options

A conventional treatment for a bunion is a bunionectomy, or surgery that removes part of the bulging metatarsal bone and forcibly realigns the joints. This surgery is often followed with prescriptions for orthotic arch supports and highly cushioned shoes that keep feet confined in unnatural positions. While this may result in some pain relief, proponents of natural foot movement argue that the surgery does not confront the source of the issue and may be an extreme solution when other, less invasive options may be available. It is worth noting that bunions can still return after surgery, especially if the conditions that caused them in the first place have not changed.

Natural Bunion Treatment

McClanahan practices an alternative way to treat bunion patients with less invasive measures, essentially by gently restoring the natural shape and function of the foot. It's really quite simple:

  1. With the use of bunion splints or toe spacers (such as Correct Toes—McClanahan's own invention) toes can be gradually restored to a more natural position, thereby undoing the motion that pushes the bunion out. In other words, as your toes spread out, the bunion starts to recede.
  2. Simple massage and range of motion exercises, like the one shown in the video below, can be very effective in relaxing and "retraining" foot muscles to move toes in their natural direction.
  3. Wearing footwear that encourages natural movement is strongly recommended to reverse, rather than encourage, the damage.

Remember to be patient with natural bunion treatment. It likely took decades for your bunion to develop and that change will not be reversed overnight. While some people may notice relief from pain right away, it could take weeks or even months to see the difference.

Bunion-Fighting Footwear

So what kind of shoes should you look for? McClahahan recommends finding shoes with the following features:

  1. Wide toe boxes that allow your feet to spread.
  2. Little or no arch support.
  3. Little or no elevated heels.
  4. Overall lightweight and flexible design.

Fortunately, many shoe manufacturers have begun making minimalist shoes that meet these criteria, including... [ahem]... Softstar Shoes! Every one of our shoes are designed to keep your feet as barefoot as possible with wide toe boxes and thin, flexible soles. We are proud to say we have a wide selection of fashionable women's shoes to keep your feet moving naturally... all made by hand in Oregon, USA:

  1. Adult Ballerine Flat


  2. Adult Solstice Sandal


  3. Adult Merry Jane


Who says stylish shoes have to hurt your feet?

Furthermore, Dr. McClanahan himself helped us test and develop our Primal sole shape. Shoes made with this sole shape, such as our Primal RunAmoc and Primal Sawyer, feature an extra-wide toe box to allow a natural and healthy toe splay:

  1. Adult PRIMAL RunAmoc


  2. Adult Primal Sawyer


  3. Adult Merino Zen Moccasin


Shoes featuring Primal sole shapes.

We hear from many happy customers who have worn our shoes to help reverse bunion pain and find relief. Please remember that we are shoemakers, not doctors, so we can't make any medical claims about our footwear and we don't prescribe our shoes for any treatment routine—nor do we guarantee any results. That being said, we have heard several customer success stories and we hope you'll consider this natural method if you're trying to recover from bunion pain.

The earlier a bunion is treated, the more likely it can be relieved. McClanahan also warns that the longer feet are deformed by tapered shoes, the less effective treatment will be. In severe cases, surgery may end up being the only option. It is worth noting, however, that many traditional podiatrists shun the idea of treating and curing foot pain by restoring natural movement simply because these methods are relatively new and challenge traditional thinking. Some podiatrists who now support this newer view have told us they were taught in school to only treat bunions with surgery and, after decades of reinforcing this idea, simply found it inconceivable to accept other possibilities. If you are interested in seeking alternative treatment or getting another opinion based on natural foot function, then you may have to do your work finding a podiatrist who supports this view.

For more information about Dr. Ray McClanahan and his practice, visit the Northwest Foot and Ankle Website. We also recommend these articles:

Watch this video to see Dr. McClanahan explain bunion causes and treatment options in more detail:

Disclaimer: we are excited to share the information above, which conveys the research done by Dr. McClanahan at NW Foot and Ankle. This article reflects the stories we've heard from many customers who have successfully treated bunions without sugery and also supports our philosophy of minimal shoe design that encourages natural foot function, but please keep in mind that we are shoemakers and not doctors. As such, we cannot answer questions about an individual's foot pain or prescribe medical advice. We recommend contacting NW Foot and Ankle directly regarding any medical inquiries.

Related posts:

2019 Movement and Shoemaking Workshop with Katy BowmanDo Barefoot Shoes Improve Kids' Foot Development?Bent and Crooked Toes: Tips for Treatment and Prevention

Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think (13)

Elf Martin

Martin is a lifelong runner who began wearing minimalist shoes over 10 years ago when he found they alleviated his chronic foot pain, which eventually disappeared completely. He further studied proper running form through a series of workshops taught by Correct Toes inventor, Dr. Ray McClanahan DPM. Martin has collaborated with several health care professionals to collect and share peer-reviewed studies that show the benefits of minimalist footwear. In his personal life, Martin loves living in the Pacific Northwest because it allows him to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities year-round, including hiking, cycling, rock climbing, surfing and snowboarding.

Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think (2024)


Treating Bunions Without Surgery: Easier Than You Think? ›

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 bunions really be corrected 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.

Is bunion surgery easier now? ›

Minimally invasive bunion surgery is performed using a burr, instead of a saw, to cut the bone. This allows the cuts to be made “percutaneously,” or through tiny incisions made through the skin of the foot, instead of the long incisions most often used in traditional techniques.

Why avoid bunion surgery? ›

While this procedure is often used to reduce pain and improve the appearance of the foot, it can also lead to permanent changes in the natural shape and alignment of the bones in your foot/feet, which will affect the biomechanics of your feet and how they absorb pressures when you walk, stand, climb, run, etc.

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 happens if you never get bunion surgery? ›

If left untreated, a bunion can cause arthritis, especially if the joint in the big toe has sustained extensive, long-term damage.

Has anyone reversed bunion? ›

Bunions can't be reversed, and unfortunately, they don't go away on their own. Once you have a bunion, it will likely continue to grow over time. Luckily, many people don't need to have surgery to treat their bunions. It's possible to find pain relief through home remedies, orthotics and other treatments.

What is the new treatment for bunions? ›

Lapiplasty® is a new procedure using patented technology to correct not only the bunion, but its root cause.

How bad do bunions have to be before surgery? ›

Surgery may be right for you if your toe is too painful, if your bunion is very big, or if you can't easily do your daily activities. It's not clear how well bunion surgery works or which kind of surgery is best.

At what point should you have bunion surgery? ›

You may need bunion surgery if you have severe foot pain that happens even when walking or wearing flat, comfortable shoes. Surgery may also be needed when chronic big toe inflammation and swelling isn't relieved with rest or medicines.

Is 65 too old for bunion surgery? ›

Patients commonly ask if they are too old for bunion surgery. The answer to this complex question is largely based on individual risk factor assessment. Advanced age alone does not preclude bunion surgery but certain age-related conditions can increase the likelihood of compromised healing and poor outcome.

Do bunions get worse with age? ›

Bunions develop gradually over time. Without the right care, like changing your footwear or using orthotics, bunions can get worse over time. As a person gets older and ages or gains weight, our feet spread and that worsens the problems already in place or triggers the development of bunions.

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 a podiatrist fix a bunion without surgery? ›

Other non-surgical treatments for bunions include injections of cortisone or oral anti-inflammatory medication and wearing custom-made shoes that accommodate the bunion deformity.

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.

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.

Is there a bunion corrector that actually works? ›

Unfortunately, there is no medical research or data to support the claim that bunion correctors straighten the big toe. If your bunions are pretty severe, no plastic or elastic device is going to correct them. However, these correctors and splints may provide some pain relief to the big toe.

Does bunion taping really work? ›

Taping bunions can reduce the bunion pain and stress brought on during the day by most shoes, standing and walking. Taping is often used to provide support, stability or rehabilitation to athletes suffering from bunion pain including runners, dancers, bikers and skiers.

How do you permanently fix bunions? ›

Surgical options

Surgical procedures for bunions can be done as single procedures or in combination. They might involve: Removing the swollen tissue from around your big toe joint. Straightening your big toe by removing part of the bone.


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