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Cross Training For Runners

Running With Bunions – The Complete Treatment & Prevention Guide

7 Mins read

Are you a runner suffering from bunions?

Then you have come to the right place.

For most people, the word bunion conjures images of ugly feet deformities and long-term pain, especially in the running community.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As repelling and scary bunions can be, there are a few measures you can take to help you live with them and keep running strong.

In today’s post, I’ll share with you what you need to do to treat and prevent the progression of bunions while running.

More specifically, I’ll dive into the following:

  • What is a bunion?
  • How do bunions form?
  • Can you run with a bunion
  • What causes bunions in runners
  • How to soothe bunion pain
  • How to run safely with bunions
  • And so much more

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

What’s The Bunion?

Also known as Hallux valgus, A bunion is a foot deformity of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint that develops on the inside portion of the great toe.

In plain English, a bunion forms when the big toe joint moves out of place, forcing the affected toe to stick out or develop a bump.

Under constant stress, the big toe joint can jut out of place, turn inward, and swell, causing a painful body protrusion on the side of the foot.

Since the metatarsophalangeal joint carries the bulk of your weight while walking and running, a bunion can cause some serious pain while running.

A bunion may start as a mild issue but, over time, may turn into a severely debilitating and disfiguring foot deformity.

This is especially true when continuous pressure is put on the affected limb.

They Are Common

Bunions are an all-too-common foot deformity that plagues hundreds of millions worldwide, affecting roughly 1 in 4 people aged between 18 to 65 and more than one-third of people over 65.

This is especially true among women who spend endless hours on their feet, such as waitresses, nurses, and teachers—many of whom are also runners.

What Causes Bunions in Runners?

There are many issues to blame for bunions, just like any other foot problem. Some of these include

  • Loose joints and tendons
  • Bad footwear
  • Low arches
  • Flat feet
  • Genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Jobs requiring long-standing periods, such as teachers, nurses, or cooks.
  • Weak foot muscles
  • Muscle imbalances

Does Running Cause Bunions?

Here’s the good and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news first.

Contrary to popular belief, running doesn’t cause bunions. As a runner, you might be genetically predisposed to develop bunions because of how your foot is structured—not because you logged in some miles before breakfast.

So, if your father or mother had bunions, you might have them, too.

The bad news is that running can quickly make your existing bunions worse. You cannot avoid not putting repetitive stress on the forefront and toe areas, which can aggravate a bunion. The non-stop friction of the bunion against the side of the shoes can also worsen the pain.

Serious cases of the bunions can bring your running routine to a halt, requiring surgery to repair the joint, which is why you should take the following measures at the first sign of discomfort or redness.

Additional resource – Black toenail guide

Can You Run With A Bunion?

Of course, you can. Feel free to keep training if you have no pain or little pain. Remember that proper shoes greatly prevent a bunion from getting worse (more on this later).

But if your bunion is too painful and/or altering your gait, there are more than a few precautions that you’ll need to take to ensure an optimal and pain-free experience. This way, you won’t have to stop running after a few minutes because of excessive foot pain.

Keep reading to discover what you must do to run comfortably with a bunion.

Do Bunion Correctors Work?

Many people turn to bunion correctors, but the research reported that bunion correctors aren’t that effective at getting rid of bunions or realigning the big toe.

Research looked into a group of 70 patients with bunions either being treated with a toe splint or receiving no treatment. Ultimately, the researchers found no difference in big toe alignment between the two groups. But the researchers also reported that the splint group experienced less pain during walking, running, and rest.

Let’s look at another study.

In this one, the researchers compared the impact of using a night splint versus wearing toe-separating insoles in 30 patients with bunions aged 19 to 45. Though the toe separator groups reported less pain, the night splint group didn’t. The big toe angle remained the same in both groups.

So what’s the lesson?

Overall, expect some pain relief while using bunion correctors, but more research has to be conducted for a fuller picture.

In other words, despite the ads, bunion correctors may not be the overnight fix you’re seeking.

bunions while running

Treating and Preventing Bunions While Running

Most bunions are permanent unless surgically removed or corrected.

But there are a few steps you can take to make running with bunions more comfortable, even to slow a bunion’s progression.

Tape The Bunion

Pad the affected toe if your bunion is bothering you while running.

Taping your foot can limit direct pressure on the bunion while running and may prevent the condition’s progression.

Non-medical pads and tapes are available at most drugstores.

These are made of neoprene, moleskin, silicon, foam, or gel-filled plastic.

In some cases, these pads are also used in conjunction with toe separators, which help relieve pain and prevent the worsening of the condition.

Just make sure your running shoes have ample space to accommodate them.

Additional resource – Side stitch when running

Strength Exercises

Keeping your foot muscles strong is crucial to counteract any muscular imbalance.

Don’t get me wrong. Strength training won’t remove your bunions (since this is a biomechanical deformity), but it may soothe your symptoms and help you train more comfortably.

Adding strength to these muscles provides your feet with better support, improving your big-toe mobility and easing discomfort while running and walking.

Muscles to target include :

  • Adductor halluces
  • Flexor halluces brevis
  • Abductor halluces
  • Fibularis longus
  • Tibialis posterior.

Here are the exercises you need :

Single-Leg Calf Raises

Shin release with a lacrosse ball

Toe Extensor

Calf release with a lacrosse ball or foam roller

Big-Toe Adductor

Have The Right Shoes

The best measure you can take right now as a runner is to head to a specialty running store to get the best-fitting shoes.

If you’re running in the wrong shoes, you’re further irritating the site of your bunion.

If you’re a runner who has bunions or wishes to prevent the deformity, I’d recommend choosing properly fitting running shoes that fulfill these features:

  • Go wide. Wide-fitting running shoes provide a lot of comfort for bunion sufferers by allocating more space for the big toe. This allows your bunion to move more freely while pounding the pavement.
  • Go soft. Running shoes with a soft toe box can also help they help limit rubbing and chaffing on the bunion, especially if the bunion is tender and contains fluid.
  • Go low. Look for shoes that do not have an elevated heel—or what’s known as ‘zero drops’ shoes.
  • Enough room. Your running shoes should have plenty of room in the toe box—the part surrounding your toes—without forcing, squeezing, or sliding with mesh and minimal stitching at the bunion area.
  • A flexible sole. This helps strengthen your foot muscles instead of a rigid sole that hinders the range of motion in your feet.

Use the Right Knot

Tying your shoes correctly can also help relieve pressure in the shoe box.

Loosening up the laces closer to your toes minimizes the pressure applied to the foot’s toes, bunion, and ball.

Here’s a YouTube tutorial that can help you to better understand the so-called “Bunion Step-Over” lacing technique.

Seek Surgery

The above practical self-care measures can help relieve bunion pain, especially running.

Nonetheless, when these aren’t enough to keep your training pain-free, the next step is to see a doctor and review your options.

When a bunion becomes too painful and impacts everyday activities, many professionals recommend surgery as the only way out.

Research has reported over 100 types of surgery can be performed to remove bunions. Common interventions include repositioning ligaments, tendons, and the joint, causing alteration in the angle of the big toe.

What’s known as a bunionectomy, the main purpose of surgery is to realign the big toe joint to correct deformity, restore function, and soothe symptoms.

It often involves opening up the big toe joint, then realigning the bones. Messy affair, but it has to be done in some cases.

In some cases, the bone at the base of the big toe and the bone behind might be cut. In other cases, the big toe might be fixed in places using metal plates or screws.

Make sure to find a sports podiatric who is familiar with treating runners.

If he’s a runner himself, then you got yourself a winner.

Full Recovery Period

A bunionectomy can put you out of commission for a few days to a few weeks and wearing a surgical boot for roughly a month.

Full recovery from this can take anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks. So going back to your former running glory should take a while.

This might sound like a long time away from your running shoes.

But it’s a much better option than suffering severe pain on every step you take while running.

Don’t you think so?

During your recovery period, do plenty of low-impact exercises to keep fit and going strong.

Running With Bunions – The Conclusion

Although the above measures seem simple, they can make a big difference. Dealing with bunions while running does not have to be complicated—as long as you know what you’re doing.

You can make some simple changes to how you train that can protect you and prevent the progression of toe deformities.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.

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