Bunion: Definition and What it is
Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Bunion Definition and Meaning
A bunion is a bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe joint as a result of the big toe angling inward toward the others. A bunion is also known as hallux valgus. In hallux valgus, the big toe drifts in the direction of the smaller toes.
For many people, a bunion isn't a source of pain or foot problems, at least at first. However, sometimes bunions can take a turn for the uncomfortable. And while a bunion won’t go away on its own (that would require surgery), there’s a lot you can do to ease the pain and maintain function and mobility in your foot.
Bunions can result in a range of symptoms, with the most obvious one being a bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Other symptoms may include persistent pain and discomfort in your big toe; swelling, redness, or soreness around your big toe joint; corns or calluses, often developing where the first and second toes overlap; and restricted movement of your big toe if arthritis also affects the toe or foot.
Bunions: A Hinge Health Perspective
Exercise is an important part of bunion pain relief. People may shy away from exercise because they think it will make their bunions worse, but it actually can help with the associated symptoms.
Gentle movements, specific stretches, and strengthening exercises can help to manage bunions. And, as research shows, it will pay off: A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that women with bunions who did a foot and toe stretching and strengthening regimen for three months showed significant improvements in pain and range of motion compared to those who didn’t.
So, while a bunion might make you more hesitant to move, listen to your body. If you’re able to run or do a brisk walk with minimal to manageable discomfort, continue doing so — the movement can increase muscle strength and endurance while reducing any pain caused by the bunion.
Bunion Pain Treatment
While exercise should be the cornerstone of your recovery plan, there are other changes you can make that can also provide relief for bunion pain, like opting for footwear with a wider toe box and adequate arch support (narrow, pointy shoes can squeeze bunions and cause more pain); using orthotics to distribute pressure evenly across the foot; or sleeping with a night splint to keep the big toe in a straight position.
How Physical Therapy Can Help With Bunion Pain
Physical therapy can play a supportive role in bunion treatment by providing techniques that help to strengthen and stretch all the muscles that support the leg, foot, and toes. A physical therapist (PT) may also analyze your gait to determine if you push off the side of your foot, versus pushing forward, when walking or running, which can exacerbate bunion symptoms. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Ferrari, J. July 13, 2021. Hallux Valgus Deformity (Bunion) in Adults. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hallux-valgus-deformity-bunion-in-adults
Abdalbary, S. A. (2018). Foot Mobilization and Exercise Program Combined with Toe Separator Improves Outcomes in Women with Moderate Hallux Valgus at 1-Year Follow-up. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 108(6), 478–486. doi:10.7547/17-026