If you're at a loss for finding the best shoes for bunions, you've come to the right place. High heels aren't comfortable for most people, and for anyone with bunions, they provide an extra challenge. And it's not just high heels—many "normal" shoes can be difficult for bunions, as they apply pressure to the joint, and can result in foot pain even if you're just leisurely taking a stroll. Luckily, you're not relegated to special shoes only, and there are plenty of everyday sneakers, walking shoes, sandals and more that can accommodate bunions—if you know what to look for.
Ahead, podiatrists explain what causes bunions, why certain shoes are better than others for bunions, and also provide shoe picks for both men and women.
What are bunions?
Bunions, also known as Hallux Valgus deformity, are characterized by the big toe joint shifting out of place, which causes a bump on the inside of the foot, explains NYC Podiatrist Dr. Nelya Lobkova, DPM at Step Up Footcare. Bunions make the forefoot widen during standing and inhibit proper forward motion at the great toe joint, adds Dr. Robert Conenello, founder of Orangetown Podiatry, a New York metropolitan based practice.
If you have a bunion, know that they're fairly common in the general population, and about a quarter of adults aged 18-65 have them. According to Dr. Lobkova, bunions are genetic and tend to run in families. Being cis female also increases the likelihood of developing a bunions, and when people have children, a hormone called relaxin is released throughout the body, which relaxes ligaments and can worsen bunions. Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, which cause inflammation in the joints, can also increase the chances of developing bunions.
Can wearing the wrong shoes make bunions worse?
Because the bump caused by bunions adds width to your forefoot, most shoes—especially high-heel and narrow toe box shoes— put pressure on the bunion, which "can cause numbness and tingling in the big toe due to bone pressing against the nerve," says Dr. Lobkova. She notes that while tight-fitting shoes don't cause bunions per se, they can contribute to the worsening of them by exaggerating the inward motion of the big toe. Thus, proper footwear is important. It's not only important to make the bunion more comfortable while wearing shoes, but also to prevent it from progressing and worsening, says podiatrist, Christopher Formanek.
What to look for in shoes if you have bunions
Choosing the right footwear can prevent more pain. Here's what to look for:
- Wide forefoot: Dr. Lobkova says footwear that allows for normal toe flexion, without crowing the toes, will help maintain a healthy joint. Look for wide and naturally-shaped toe boxes, which do not constrict the toes and will be less likely to accentuate the growth, says Dr. Conenello. It's also important to consider the height of the toe box, adds Functional Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, Dr. Emily Splichal, as a taller toe box can also help minimize pressure to the bunion.
- Arch support: Footwear with arch support, especially on the inside of the foot, can contribute to metatarsal stability and slow down the progression of bunions, says Dr. Lobkova.
- Stretchable fabrics: Aim for fabrics that are stretchable so they'll be able to conform to the shape of the foot and minimize excess pressure, says Dr. Splichal. The best combination, says Dr. Formanek, is a shoe with a soft upper, yet some rigidity in the bottom to control excessive pronation mechanics.
- Slight heel: Totally flat footwear, says Dr. Lobkova, is worse for bunions than a 1-1.5 inch heel or platform because lifting the heel "causes the rest of the foot to rotate in a more optimal biomechanical position that puts less pressure on the big toe joint." However, high heels, as mentioned earlier, can exacerbate bunions, so Dr. Conenello says shoes with a low rearfoot to forefoot drop are also preferred.
- Straps: Dr. Lobkova says in general, for people with bunions, open-toe shoes are better than closed-toe ones. However, the sandal straps need to be positioned so they won't irritate the joint. She suggests avoiding sandals with more than three straps or thin straps made from rough material like PVC. And if you have any doubts, try them on.
Best Women's Shoes for Bunions
These New Balance sneakers are great for everyday activities or working out. With a breathable synthetic and mesh upper, and a cushioned midsole, these shoes will keep you cool and comfy all day long. Dr. Lobkova says they also tend to be wider shoes, so they give your feet some extra room.
These lightweight running shoes have a mesh upper, protective cushion under your feet, and an extended heel crash pad so you land softer with each step. Dr. Lobkova says the shape of Hoka shoes is wider in the forefoot than in many popular sneaker brands, and models like the Clifton 8 have an engineered upper material that is soft on the skin and won’t irritate bunions. Hoka also has the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance, which recognizes products found beneficial to foot health.
Allbirds have soft wool uppers that are cozy on your feet and gentle on your bunions. The Runner-up Mizzles are high tops, which makes them great for colder temps, and they also have a protective coating to make them water-repellent. They’re also good for the environment; due to sustainable practices and materials, the shoe is carbon neutral.
Slip into casual comfort with these shoes. They’re made with a four-way stretch material that’s breathable and conforms to your feet, and the cushioned footbed is designed to cradle your feet and reduce stress on your joints. Dr. Lobkova says these are wide and made to accommodate and stabilize the foot.
If you’re the type who loves to wear sandals more often than not, this pair is for you. With a leather footbed and ergonomic midsoles, these FitFlop sandals are comfortable for extended periods of time. Dr. Lobkova adds that they in addition to cushioning under the forefoot, they also have an adjustable strap and arch support.
With a stretchable upper, orthotic insoles, wide toe box, and a cushioned sole, these Orthofeet shoes will comfortably support your feet and help ease any pain. Orthofeet’s shoes are biomechanically engineered for sensitive feet, and they come in Wide and X-Wide sizes, too.
Xero shoes are one of Dr. Splichal’s favorite brands, and they’re made to have a natural fit, which means they enable the natural movement of your feet. They have wide toe boxes to help your toes spread out and relax, and thin and flexible soles to let you feet flex and bend naturally. They’re also zero drop, with an equal amount of cushion below the toe and heel to help with better posture and balance.
Best Men's Shoes for Bunions
The New Balance 847 is a breathable, lightweight walking shoe that has synthetic leather and mesh construction and two different types of foam to provide ample cushioning for every step. There’s extra support in the heel and the shoes are available in Wide, X-Wide, and XX-Wide.
With a soft suede upper, these shoes can be dressed up or down. They have a slip resistant sole, cushioning that responds to your unique stride, and maximum support. They’re available in three colors and Wide and X-Wide sizes.
Orthofeet shoes are a great option if you have more severe bunions, says Dr. Splichal. This pair has a wide toe box and extra depth design to give toes plenty of space, and a a stretchy knit fabric and padded interior to ease pressure on bunions. The shoes come in Wide and X-Wide.
These aren’t just any pair of flip flops. They have OOfoam technology to absorb more impact, enable neutral motion, and help reduce stress on your feet and joints, and have the American Podiatric Medical Association Seal of Acceptance. They’re also machine-washable so you can keep them smelling fresh.
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