Shoe inserts and orthotics for bunions

How Insoles Help Relieve Bunion Pain

by Mark Paigen 6 minute read

According to WebMD, "about 10-25% of people have bunions, which can make your feet so sore that you can barely walk." And if you might think that only people of a certain age develop bunions, you'll probably be surprised to find out that bunions can happen to people of any age.

In this post, we'll cover the what and why of bunions, and how you can relieve the pain they cause.

The Basics ---

  • A bunion (hallux valgus) is a bony lump that develops in the joint near the base of the big toe. Bunions occur in 10-25% of people, can develop at any age, and are more common in women.
  • The result of abnormal motion and faulty biomechanics, bunions occur when the normal balance of forces exerted on the foot is disrupted, causing instability and increased pressure.
  • If you develop a bunion, you should see a podiatrist. They may recommend icing the foot, pain relievers and shoe inserts for bunions.
  • For bunion pain relief, we recommend Tread Labs Pace Pain Relief Insoles. Their firm support helps the correct biomechanical imbalances that cause pressure on bunions that lead to pain.

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What You Need To Know ---

If you've developed bunions, you're probably curious to know what caused them. Was it your choice in footwear or is it because one of your parents had them too? Read on to find out the answer, and to learn more about bunions in general. 

What Are Bunions?

A bunion is a bony lump that develops on the joint near the base of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal, or MTP). When that joint becomes misaligned, and your big toe is forced against the other toes, a protrusion forms on the inside of your foot at the base of your big toe. This is a bunion, also referred to as hallux valgas.

The MTP carries much of your body's weight when walking and running. With so much stress on the joint, a bunion can become very painful if not treated. While bunions most commonly form near the big toe, they sometimes occur on outside of the little toe. This is called a bunionette. 

What Causes Bunions?

Bunions are a result of abnormal motion and faulty biomechanics. When the normal balance of forces exerted on the foot is disrupted, the big toe often bears the brunt of instability and increased pressure.

Many women will experience bunions sometime during their lifetime. In fact, more women than men will develop bunions due to the prevalence of high heeled shoes for women. 

But according to Science Daily, there are other reasons you may develop bunions:

  • Family history
  • Wearing shoes that are too narrow

In Podiatry Today, Doug Richie Jr. DPM FACFAS, points to his conclusion from a review of hundreds of published articles on bunions that "the most common risk factors are either heredity, ill-fitting footwear or both."

If your parents developed bunions, it is more likely that you will as well. Not because bunions are genetic, but rather the biomechanics that lead to bunions are. However, by wearing well-fitting shoes that you've added insoles for bunions to, you can dramatically decrease your likelihood of developing bunions.

Other Causes of Bunions

The main biomechanical irregularities that cause bunions are:

Apart from biomechanical irregularities, the following issues and conditions can cause bunions:

  • Foot injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory joint disease
  • Undue foot stress (ballet dancers often develop bunions)
  • Overuse of shoes that squeeze the toes together and distribute weight abnormally – high heels

Bunion Symptoms

In the early stages of a bunion forming, you probably won't notice any symptoms, however as the bunion gets worse, symptoms will start to become noticeable. Bunion symptoms can be exacerbated when you're wearing shoes that crowd your toes or if you're wearing high heels.

If you do develop any of these issues, you might have a bunion:

  • The presence of a firm bump on the inside of your foot at the base of the big toe
  • Redness or swelling in the area
  • Pain around the big toe
  • Restriction of toe movement

The Cleveland Clinic points out these additional symptoms of bunions:

  • A burning feeling
  • Possible numbness
  • Difficulty walking

Should you find yourself experiencing any of these foot issues, see a podiatrist for a diagnosis and treatment options. Besides the benefit of getting relief for bunion-related pain, you'll also be getting in front of other issues that can occur because of bunions.

Other Foot Issues Caused By Bunions

If you develop a bunion, early detection is key to halting its growth and halting the development of other foot issues it can cause.

Because a bunion displaces your big toe, thus wreaking havoc on the normal alignment and function of the rest of your toes, there are a number of foot issues that can arise from bunions. According to a study published in the Arthritis Care & Research journal, these issues include:

  • Hammer toe or claw toe
  • Altered weight-bearing patterns
  • Development of corns and calluses

You can likely avoid developing these types of issues as a result of your bunions if you are proactive in addressing your bunions with your podiatrist. 

How To Relieve Bunion Pain

While bunions are permanent unless they are surgically corrected, typically only very painful bunions require surgery. There are many conservative treatments that are recommended first. 

As a first step, your podiatrist will try to reduce pressure on the bunion and may recommend some of these remedies to relieve pain:

  • A non-medicated bunion pad around the bony bump.
  • Repeated icing of the foot.
  • The use of arch-supporting bunion shoe inserts to realign the foot and control pronation.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.

If these home remedies don't give the comfort you need, your podiatrist might perform the following:

  1. Padding and taping - Padding (like a bunion pad) will relieve pressure. This can allow you to continue in your daily life without pain. Tape will help keep the foot in a normal position.
  2. Medication – Anti-inflammatory drugs or even cortisone injections can reduce pain and inflammation.
  3. Surgery – This is the only “true” cure to eliminate bunions. But most podiatrists won’t recommend it unless the pain is interfering with daily life and normal function. During bunion surgery, a physician will shave down the bony protrusion and realign the toe with a pin. Recovery can take from one to two months. In 10 to 15 percent of the cases, the bunion will come back. This makes surgery a less than perfect option.

Podiatrist Dina Stock says that before you have surgery to correct a bunion, "first do surgery on your shoes. If pain persists for more than a year, it may be time to consider bunion surgery, but most patients will have pain on and off for years before electing surgery."

That said, if you're shopping for footwear that won't irritate your bunion, choose shoes that: 

  • Are made of a pliable material like leather. If you have a favorite pair of plastic shoes, make sure they are wide enough to accommodate your bunion.
  • Have wide toe boxes. It is important to give your feet – and bunions – the space they need. Cramped toes will result in increased pain.
  • Provide enough space to use bunion shoe inserts.
  • Are less than two-inches tall. Avoid pointy-toed stilettos and very high heels.

Bunion Shoe Inserts are Key to Prevention

Because the root cause of bunions is improper biomechanics, most podiatrists and foot experts will recommend some type of insoles to prevent or provide bunion support. Adding support to flat feet and unstable arches with a pair of bunion shoe inserts and orthotics will help prevent the development of bunions.

Dr. Dina Stock recommends the "use of shoe inserts to help position the foot correctly. These can be over-the-counter arch supports."  When you're looking for orthotics for bunions, make sure you find ones that support your arch by matching the contours of your feet.

Drugstore gel inserts and foam cushions inserts just won't provide the support you need to relieve pain from bunions. Bunion shoe inserts should give firm support with an arch height that matches your arch height.

But just as important as orthotics are for bunions, so too is the footwear you're putting them in. Choosing the appropriate footwear after bunions develop is crucial for relieving pain. The best types of shoes will provide enough space for your feet to rest comfortably.

Finding the right combination of orthotics for bunions and comfortable footwear will go a long way toward relieving your bunion pain and halting the progression of bunion development. Both of which will make your feet much happier!

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