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How to Prevent Intense Bunion Pain Flare-ups

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An estimated 1 out of every 3 people over the age of 65 have bunions, and if you’re one of those affected, you know that bunions are anything but pleasant. They form when the base of your big toe is out of alignment. They cause pain when wearing shoes, joint redness, and, in severe cases, nerve damage in your toe.

The good news is that there are plenty of strategies to help prevent intense bunion flare-ups. 

Read on as our team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Orthopedic Specialists of Oakland County share tips to prevent flare-ups, steps to take if you have a flare-up, and how we can help treat bunions.

Prevent flare-ups

You can reduce your risk of a bunion flare-up by:

Wearing the right shoes

Bunion prevention starts with the right footwear. Choose shoes that provide ample space for your toes and have a wide toe box. Avoid high heels or shoes with narrow, pointy toes, as they can exacerbate bunion pain. Look for footwear with good arch support and cushioning to reduce pressure on the affected area.

Tip: If you need to purchase new bunion-friendly shoes, go shoe shopping in the afternoon or evening, when your feet are most swollen from the day.

Wearing custom orthotics and splints as directed

Custom orthotic inserts provide additional support and alignment for your feet. They can help distribute pressure more evenly and reduce strain on the bunion. 

While orthotics are designed to help your feet during the day, night splints help your feet during the night. They help straighten out your big toe to relieve pain as you sleep.

Using padding

Use padding or cushioning to protect your bunion from friction and pressure. Various over-the-counter options, such as bunion pads or sleeves, can help reduce irritation and provide additional comfort. Experiment with different products to find what works best for you.

Exercising and stretching

According to research published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, weak muscles can make bunion pain worse, so exercise can be a useful strategy to help prevent flare-ups.


Regular toe exercises and stretches help maintain flexibility in your toes and strengthen the muscles around the bunion. Simple exercises like toe spreads, toe curls, and calf raises can help improve the range of motion in your toes and alleviate some of the stress on the bunion joint. 

In addition to at-home exercise, your Orthopedic Specialists of Oakland County provider may recommend physical therapy for customized exercises and stretching plans.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Excess weight can exacerbate bunion pain by putting additional strain on your affected joint. Maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise to reduce the load on your feet. Weight management not only benefits your bunion but contributes to overall foot health.

What to do if you have a flare-up

Despite your best intentions, sometimes it’s impossible to prevent a flare-up. In these cases, use these tips to alleviate your discomfort:

Ice your toe

During flare-ups, ice can be your ally in managing pain and reducing inflammation. Apply an ice pack to the affected area for about 15 minutes at a time. Never place ice directly onto your skin. Always keep a cloth 一 even a tea towel 一 between your skin and your ice pack.

Additionally, elevating your foot can help minimize swelling and discomfort. Make these practices a part of your routine, especially after long periods of standing or walking.

Take over-the-counter pain medication

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can provide temporary relief from bunion pain and inflammation. However, it's crucial to consult with your Orthopedic Specialists of Oakland County provider before incorporating any medication into your routine, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.

Continue with your stretches

Even if stretches didn’t fully prevent a flare-up, continue with any prescribed exercises or stretches. 

Talk to us

Most importantly, if you have a bunion flare-up, don’t suffer in silence. If conservative options just don’t deliver the relief you need, you may benefit from surgery. Depending on your condition and the severity of your symptoms, our team may recommend:

  • Osteotomy
  • Arthrodesis

That being said, you don’t need to wait until your bunion symptoms get worse before reaching out. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you can get started on a treatment plan that works for you. You can reach us at 248-335-2977, or simply click here to schedule an appointment at our Bloomfield Hills or Clarkston, Michigan office.