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How to Massage Bunions

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

The foot introduces unique challenges for massage therapy, as there is little muscle and fat in the area. Because of this, bunion massage can be difficult unless you know the right techniques. Keep reading to learn safe and effective options when massaging your bunions.

How Does Massage Help Bunions?

Massage is a great way to promote healing and relaxation in the body. The feet and toes are no different. Massage improves circulation, decreases stiffness, and ultimately can reduce the amount of pain you may be experiencing. It is even more effective when combined with other treatment options.

Bunion Massage Techniques

Massage of the foot requires specialized techniques to adequately address dysfunctions like stiffness, pain, and poor joint alignment. 

Hallux Valgus Release

Sit with the foot you want to treat resting on your opposite thigh. Then, separate the first and second toe to access to the inner base of the big toe. By probing with your finger, locate the area of sensitivity. Place your thumb on the top of the foot and the pointer finger near the sore area and apply as much pressure as you can tolerate. While using the other hand, gently bend and extend the toe joint. You can even gently pull on your toe.

Move around the big toe joint, playing with the range of motion and pressure until you notice a decrease in overall tension in the toe and more “joint play.” This usually takes 3-10 minutes, depending on how sore and stiff the area is.

Ice Massage

Applying ice directly to the bunion and surrounding area  is a great way to rapidly provide pain relief and reduce swelling. Wearing gloves or using a small towel, simply glide the ice in a circular fashion, applying light pressure around the bunion.

Continue until the area is numb, for approximately 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on your skin quality to prevent frostbite.

Toe Traction

Sitting with your legs out straight and foot relaxed, have a friend or family member stand facing you. They will then use their thumb and pointer finger to pull on the big toe, as you would crack a knuckle. How much pressure can be used depends on your tolerance, but it should be fairly light. While sustaining the toe pull, start moving it into different positions to further stretch the joint and provide relief.

Slowly move forward, backward, and side to side while keeping the toe traction. Don’t force the motion. Repeat 3-5 times until some relief is felt.

Myofascial Release

Start by applying pressure on the inner base of the big toe with your fingers or long object like a pencil with an eraser. Hold 30-60 seconds. Use one hand to push into the sore spot while using the other hand to help keep your foot firmly planted on the ground. Push and hold 3-5 seconds before relaxing, 15-20 times, 1-2 times per day.

As you push, you can also add a heel raise, bending at the big toe (keeping the toe on the ground). Don’t force the pressure or range, you should feel a release of tension in the affected big toe joint.

Electric Massage

The use of electrical stimulation, or a TENs unit, is another great way to achieve the benefits of massage. Although it’s not technically a massage at all, many people report it as feeling that way, due to the tingling sensation it creates where the electrodes are placed. Since the foot has limited space, generally opt for two smaller electrodes.

A good starting placement is to put one electrode on the top of the foot near your sore toe joint, and the other directly underneath on the bottom of the foot. Other options include placing them across the arch or top of the foot. Just make sure they aren’t touching! Turn the electric intensity up to a level that feels comfortable, or try different massage settings.

Set it for 15 minutes and relax. Repeat throughout the day as needed.

Arch Massage

Rolling out the bottom of the foot with a massage tool is another general way to help the foot feel better. A bunion can leave the whole foot feeling stiff. Sit with a ball or cylinder under your foot, simply roll back and forth on the entire bottom of your foot from the base of the big toe to your heel. Keep the pressure strong but comfortable.

Do this 5-10 minutes until the foot feels more relaxed. 

Foot Massage Tips

Massage is meant to feel good in the long run. However, it can be uncomfortable if your foot is feeling extra sensitive. Try these tips to improve the effectiveness of your next foot massage

  • Start with gentle foot exercises
  • Apply a heat pack
  • Soak feet in warm water
  • Reinforce the toe with toe spacers 
  • Avoid wearing tight shoes before or after.

Massage is especially effective when used in conjunction with exercises to manage symptoms.

If you are having trouble tolerating any treatments or are unsure where to start, seek medical advice from a podiatrist or physical therapist. 

Precautions When Massaging Bunions

The feet and toes are sensitive areas to heat, so always be gentle and pay attention. For massage, never force anything that increases pain (outside of some expected discomfort). If you have open sores, be wary of irritating the area and avoid direct contact. With massage, if you experience severe pain, changes in foot strength or sensation, or other symptoms that seem to be getting worse, seek medical advice as soon as possible.



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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