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Self-help measures can greatly relieve bunion pain, advises Harvard Women’s Health Watch

Many women suffer from bunions — a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. A bunion develops when the first metatarsal bone of the foot turns outward and the big toe angles toward the other toes, causing the joint to jut out. The resulting protrusion may rub on the inside of shoes, and the entire joint may become stiff and sore. Eventually, exercise and even walking may become difficult. But you can do a lot to relieve pain and prevent bunions from progressing. Simple measures can  relieve pressure on the joint and improve foot mechanics, reports Harvard Women’s Health Watch in its June 2011 issue.

The first step is to wear the right kind of shoe. Shoes should have a wide, flexible sole to support the foot and enough room in the toe box (the part surrounding the front of the foot) to accommodate the bunion. Shoes with a back should have a sturdy heel counter (the part surrounding the heel) to keep the heel of the foot snugly in place. Heels should be no higher than an inch (the higher the heel, the greater the pressure on the front of the foot).

To protect the bunion, cover it with a moleskin or gel-filled pad. A orthopedist or podiatrist may recommend semisoft orthotics (shoe inserts) to help position the foot correctly as it strikes the ground. You can also wear a splint at night to hold the toe straight, which may help ease discomfort.

When the bunion is irritated and painful, warm soaks, ice packs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofien may help. Whirlpool, ultrasound, and massage may also provide some relief. Bunions generally don’t require surgery unless there’s an underlying deformity that can’t otherwise be corrected or the pain becomes debilitating despite conservative treatment.

Read the full-length article: “What to do about bunions”

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • Soy may be okay for breast cancer survivors
  • Conditions: When sweating is too much
  • What to do about bunions
  • In the journals: Major depression more likely during perimenopause than during premenopause
  • Ask the doctor: How should I be screened for cardiovascular disease?
  • Ask the doctor: What are the differences between soluble and insoluble fiber?

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.