Surgery is not always the right option for bunions.

By Dorie Sugay

Dorie Sugay

More than 100 million people have Hallux Valgus and most of them are women. But don’t worry, this is just a fancy word for bunions — that bony bump that forms on the outside of a big toe or at the base of the little toe.

So what does this have to do with finding ways to “age with an attitude?” Plenty — because foot aches can discourage physical activity, discourage socializing. Immobility and isolation will stray you from the path to aging well. If you are one of the 100 million affected, or know someone who is, do read on.

Surgery is not always the right option for bunions.

“Bunion correction surgeries do not change the leg biomechanics that may have lead to the stresses that pushed the hallux, big toe, out of alignment creating the bunion,” said physical therapist Lily Weisinger of Mobility with Lilly. “If poor biomechanics aren’t corrected, the bunion can worsen again even after going through surgery.”

If you consult with a physician, most of the time, they offer the following tips:

1) get properly fitted shoes. (For women, it means divorcing those high heels but don’t worry, Google can lead you to some snazzy footwear in “wide”);

2) to reduce inflammation, take pain medication (Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen or even cortisone injections) with moderation (they can cause stomach lining damage);

3) use ice to control the pain; or;

4) consider bunion splints or correctors (which by the way, only work while you are wearing them).

Your physician may also refer you to a foot specialist to talk about surgery.

You should know, however, that if your bunion is actually caused more by deviation and swelling than by a significant growth of bone, there may be effective treatment options that do not include surgery.

Non-surgical options may not get rid of a bunion because it is a biomechanical deformity, but exercises could help relieve pains associated with bunions and improve flexibility, and many times help slow down the progression, according to Weisinger.

Some non-surgical treatments include:

  • Foot mobilization therapy (FMT) — this is a hands-on manual treatment performed to address tight muscles, tendons and fascia to ensure pain-free motion. This approach is gentle, doesn’t require recovery time, nor does it require you to change your footwear or limit your activities during treatment.
  • Podiatry exercises are usually recommended to supplement FMT. These tend to strengthen larger foot muscles that support the affected toe and surrounding tissues.
  • A physical therapist may be able to customize orthotics that can significantly reduce the stress on the big toe
  • A physical therapist can also recommend exercises to reduce the stress on the joints as one moves about.

In the meantime, what exercises could help? Here are a few simple ones.

Remember — you must do these exercises on both feet to avoid creating an imbalance that could affect your gait, your hips, your feet and your spinal alignment.

  • The simplest one is called “Big Toe Circles.” This could help if you have severe foot pain or difficulty walking.

Ready? Use your hands to gently and slowly rotate your big toe in a circle 20 times then reverse the direction. It is OK to rest your foot on your knee during this exercise.

  • Another easy one involves sitting and holding your foot six inches off the floor. Curl your toe while pointing them at the floor. Hold it for 10 seconds and repeat 20 times a set. Do a set 2-3 times.
  • The “Toe Spread” will remind you of a frog’s web feet. With your foot flat on the ground, spread your big toe and your small toes as far apart from each other as you can. Make sure your feet stay as flat as possible. Do it 10-20 times per foot.
  • You’ve probably heard of this one — to “un-stress” tired and swollen tendons or bones in your foot – roll it on top of a tennis ball for 3-5 minutes a foot.
  • And the most fun — a barefoot walk on the beach!

Somehow, all this talk makes me want to share this poem:

To the barefoot man, happiness is a pair of shoes.

To the man with old shoes, it’s a pair of new shoes.

To the man with new shoes, it’s a pair of stylish shoes.

And of course-the fellow with no feet,

he’d be happy to be barefoot.

Measure our life by what you have,

not by what you don’t.

May you succeed in living a life that allows you to age with an attitude!


“Best Exercises to Treat Bunions and Relieve Pain” — B. Adebajo, Feb. 2022, Upstep.

“Your Guide to Bunion Pain Relief and Prevention” — H. Wallace, Sept. 2022, Health & Injuries: Feet Health.

“Is bunion surgery worth it?”— Foot and Ankle Associates, The Bunion Institute.

“Which bunion treatment is best for you?” — Mobility with Lilly, Lilly Weisinger

Dorie Sugay is the executive director of Visiting Angel and involved with senior issues in Morgan Hill. She can be reached at (408) 846-2988 or email here at [email protected].