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Exercises to Prevent & Relieve Bunions

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT January 31, 2020 0 Comments

Bunions, or hallux valgus, can affect your quality of life when they lead to poor movement patterns, pain, and stiffness. Here are some of the best bunion exercises for keeping your symptoms well managed. 

Benefits of Foot Exercises for Bunions

When combined with other forms of treatment, bunion exercises are an effective way to manage symptoms during the recovery process. Some of the benefits of bunion exercises include:

  • Combats stiffness
  • Optimizes balance in the foot and ankle
  • Increase flexibility
  • Boosts circulation to the foot

Foot Exercises for Bunion Pain

Here are some simple and effective ways to strengthen and stretch the toes, foot, and ankle all at once.

Toe Spreads

Sit in a comfortable position, with your feet dangling is possible (rather than touching the ground). You will then simply attempt to spread all the toes apart as you extend the toe, before relaxing and doing it again. How far you will be able to go depends on your toes. Even if the movement is minimal it is still beneficial for stretching and circulation.

Alternate between a resting position and the toes spread 10-15 times, for 2-3 sets. Don’t force it if there is any pain or cramping.

Toe Rotations

This is a passive exercise that you complete with the use of your hands. Use a massage oil, such as coconut oil, on the hands and feet to get in the correct position. Sit in a chair with your foot propped on your knee so you can reach it. The goal is to get one finger between each toe in the webspace, starting with the pointer finger between the big and second toe.

If your toes are too stiff you may have trouble achieving this, start with as few fingers as you need and work on slowly getting them closer to the webspace as tolerated. With your hand in position, you will slowly work on rotating the entire foot and toes in a gentle circle, going both directions.

Rotate in each direction 10-15 times, 2-3 sets total.

Toe Spacers

This simple exercise is a great way to stretch the toes. All you need is a toe separator or a piece of rolled paper towel that you can put between all the toes spaces. Make sure the separator is tucked as close to the web spaces as possible and provides adequate space between each toe. Then, simply spend time moving around.

Spend 5-10 minutes walking around, only if comfortable.

Heel Raises

This is a simple effective way to build strength and posture awareness for your foot and ankle. Standing with both feet on the ground about hip-width apart or slightly closer (holding onto something for balance if needed), lift the heels off the ground as you bring all your weight into the balls of your feet and toes. Focus on keeping the feet in good alignment, with the heel staying centered between the toes.

Complete 15-20 repetitions, keeping it slow and controlled. Stop or modify the range if you experience toe pain, your ankle starts to wobble or you can’t keep good alignment.

Ankle Dorsiflexion Stretch

A common issue that can progress the severity of a bunion is poor ankle dorsiflexion mobility. When there is little mobility in the ankles (that affects normal daily activities), it can put unnecessary strain on the toe and make the problem worse.

To stretch the ankle, stand with the toes touching a wall. Then bend the knee until it is also touching while keeping your entire leg in good alignment. If you don’t feel a strong enough stretch, bring the toes back away from the wall and try again until you feel a good stretch in the ankle joint itself. You should not feel a stretch in the toes since they should stay flat on the floor.

Hold 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets. Then, try to keep this mobility in mind when your walking to decrease strain on the toes.

Exercises After Bunion Surgery

Following bunion surgery, you may be limited by your surgeon as to what you can do at first. Plus, you might be in a brace. Once you are cleared, you can start with basic exercises. You will start with passive motion (using your hands), build to active movement, and then lastly strengthen the toe. With healing and time, you can also progress to the exercises listed above as well. 

Toe Flexion and Extension

This is a great passive exercise to start once you are cleared to start toe range of motion. It will help minimize the amount of stiffness you experience in your toe as you heal. 

Start by using your hand to gently bend the toe into flexion and extension. For flexion, place your middle finger at the base of the big toe and the thumb on the top side of the smaller big toe joint (the one closest to the end of your toe). Then, gently push down with the thumb and hold. You will then reverse your hand placement and push in the opposite direction.

Hold 5-10 seconds in each direction, alternating 15-20 times total. Keep the range comfortable throughout, pushing yourself as you notice it feeling looser. 

Toe Curls

You can progress to active toe flexion and extension range of motion when you are cleared by your surgeon. Sitting with your feet dangling, simply move between curling the toes under and extending them back up as far as they can go. Keep the motion comfortable, but also try to push yourself as possible. This will help to regain muscle strength in the toes along with circulation and flexibility.

Complete 15 times, for 2-3 sets.

Resistance Band Hold

Finally, you will progress to toe strengthening. Shut a resistance band into the door at ground level, with a knot to hold it in place. Pull the band away from the door to put some light tension into it. With your surgical foot facing the doorway, place your big toe on the band at about a 45-degree angle to the band. Attempt to hold the band in place against the floor. Adjust the level of tension as needed. You will feel the bottom and outside edge of the toe and foot working to stabilize this position.

Hold 5-10 seconds, for 15-20 repetitions. Build time and resistance when possible. 

Keeping Feet Healthy for the Long Term

Foot health is all about awareness. Once you know what can aggravate your symptoms you can take steps with exercise, orthotics, splints, foot massage, and other lifestyle changes to improve it. If you aren’t sure what you need to prevent or minimize the complications that can develop with bunions, talk to a trusted healthcare professional, such as a podiatrist, physical therapist, or orthopedist.


Find more tips for long-term bunion prevention here.

Exercising Feet Safely

As with any exercise, you are always in control of choosing what is right for you. If something doesn’t feel right or causes more pain than relief, then either modify or stop doing that specific exercise. If you experience severe foot pain, tingling, inability to bear weight through the foot, trouble sleeping, or any other symptoms that affect your quality of life, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

If you are completing exercises following surgery, always wait for clearance from your surgeon before starting any new movements. Additionally, follow their directions for use of braces and bandaging. This will optimize healing and prevent re-injury.


Next Pages:

Bunion Massage


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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