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Running with Bunions: How to Treat Pain & Prevent Worsening Symptoms

Running with bunions is often painful, and can be a bit disconcerting. However, studies have shown that bunions are quite common in adults – and especially runners. It’s helpful to know that you’re not alone. According to one study, nearly 25% of adults aged 18 – 65 deal with at least one bunion.

Is it okay to go running with bunions?

The way in which you manage running and bunions will vary depending on the severity of your bunion. If you are experiencing no pain or very mild symptoms, it is safe to continue running. Mild to moderate pain from running with bunions can be managed with proper preventative care.

However, severe bunion pain that occurs even while walking is something that is best evaluated with professional care. If running with bunions is causing you to pause, wince or adjust your stride, it’s safest to seek help.

What is a bunion?

A bunion is a type of deformity of the foot. This deformity, also known as hallux vagus, occurs when the big toe pushes towards the other toes, as opposed to lying straight. As the big toe pushes outward toward the other toes, the base of the big toe juts out of the foot.

This deformity in the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint causes a bump on the inside of the foot, which can lead to a variety of different painful symptoms. The bunion can sometimes appear red, callused or chafed.

While this pain can occur in anyone experiencing the condition, running with bunions often exacerbates its symptoms.

Does running cause bunions?

Running is not the underlying cause of bunions, but it does often contribute to the worsening or accelerated progress of the condition.

Ill-fitting shoes, repeated rubbing and high impact all associated with running can cause painful symptoms from bunions.

Runners are at higher risk of developing bunions due to the design of most traditional running shoes, as well as the continued pressure and contact that results from the shoes when engaging with the sport.

What causes bunions?

Bunions usually form due to an underlying condition or genetic predisposition. Bunions occur in children due to underlying causes – such as low muscle tone from Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, or autoimmune disorders such as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

In adults, the onset of a bunion is usually due to a genetic predisposition. Those who are genetically predisposed to bunions are more likely to notice an onset of their symptoms from activities such as running or hiking.

Another cause of bunions is an imbalance between the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot. Proper gait, posture and footwear all play a role in whether or not bunions arise and the degree of severity with which they occur.

How can you prevent bunions from running?

Preventing bunions from running is usually much easier than trying to minimize or reduce a bunion once it has formed. If you are nervous about bunions and running, the best thing you can do is ensure that you wear proper fitting running shoes.

Getting professionally fitted for running shoes is a great way to prevent bunions from occurring. Another way to avoid them is to look for shoes with the following:

  • Minimal to no heel drop
  • Wide toe box
  • Flexible sole
  • Flat heel
  • Proper support
Running with bunions can be painful, but can be is still possible. Here is how to prevent bunions and minimize pain when running.

13 Tips to Manage Bunions and Running

Most runners don’t begin to attempt to prevent bunions until one has already begun to form. If this is the case, don’t panic. While severe bunions might require professional treatment, mild and minor bunions are usually easy to maintain while running.

If you’re struggling with bunions and running, here are some simple, easy to implement strategies that will help minimize pain and progression.

  • Get fitted for running shoes
  • Look for shoes with minimal heel-toe drop and a wide toe box
  • Wear recovery shoes and supportive shoes when not running
  • Use moleskin pads or tape to minimize impact during a run
  • Use NSAIDs or medications from your doctor to manage pain
  • Strengthen the foot and toe muscles
  • Massage your bunion
  • Ice your bunion after a run
  • Use orthotics in your running shoes
  • Try out some bunion socks
  • Avoid hill workouts, sprinting and running on hard surfaces
  • Meet with a podiatrist or physical therapist
  • Opt for corrective surgery when necessary

Preventative Exercises for Running and Bunions

If you’ve noticed a bunion beginning to form and are hoping to continue running, one of the best things you can do is strengthen the inner muscles of the foot. These two simple exercises can be done at home in minutes, and provide the necessary strength to slow bunion formation.

Toe Pick Up

To do this exercise, you’ll need a few small objects such as marbles. Place the objects on the floor, and pick them up with your toes (while barefoot). Doing so helps strengthen the inner muscles of the foot and toes to maintain optimal strength and prevent further formation of the bunion.

Towel Scrunch

This exercise is similar to the pick up, but involves a towel instead of individual objects. While barefoot, use your toes to scrunch the towel and move it backwards. Doing this will help strengthen the inner muscles of the foot.

If you are experiencing severe pain from running with bunions, taking time off might be your best bet. During this break from running, swimming is an excellent way to stay physically fit without further irritating your bunion.

Swimming provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, very similar to running, but with no impact. Swimming is a great option for those with bunions, since no shoes are worn and no impact occurs on the feet (or any other part of the body).

If you are feeling disheartened by running with bunions, there are many options to try to minimize or rid pain on the run. Experimenting with a few different options, switching your shoes, and listening to your body will set you up for success!

More tips for running and bunions: