Healthy Body

Do Bunion Correctors Work? Podiatrists Tell Us the Truth—And When To Wear One

Photo: Getty Images/ Westend61
There are many causes of foot pain, but having a bunion may be one of the most agonizing (it is for me, at least). Oftentimes, bunions form as a result of genetics, or over time if your feet are constantly squeezed into a narrow space (or both). This ultimately causes the big toe to slant toward the second toe, resulting in a protruding bone, or knot at the front of your foot. "bunions are a progressive condition in which there is a bony prominence that protrudes near the big toe joint," Adam Kaplan, DPM, podiatrist and CEO of Arcus Orthotics, previously told Well+Good.

Best bunion correctors at a glance

Bunions can lead to a lot of discomfort, pain and even prevent you from wearing your favorite shoes. I was recently reminded of this fact when I wore a pair of sneakers that were way too narrow and kept rubbing against the side of my foot. Needless to say, that put a lot of pressure on my bunion and caused me to steer clear of heels for the next few days. At the same time, I wondered if there was an easy way to prevent the pain without getting surgery.

The answer is yes: Bunion correctors exist for the sole purpose of helping support the bone and relieve pressure and pain. But do they really work? And should you wear one? We chatted with a podiatrist to get answers.

What are bunion correctors?

Bunion correctors are commonly-used devices that people wear on their feet to keep their big toe in proper alignment. Although these can't cure your bunion, they can be useful in providing temporary relief for joints and reducing pressure. However, whether a bunion will be effective or not all really depends on the gravity of your bunion and what type of pain you're experiencing. (Yes, there are levels to this.)

"There are two types of bunion pain. One is joint pain and the other is bump pain," says Dr. Patrick McEneaney, DPM, podiatrist and CEO of Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists. "So bump pain is typically when you get rubbing against the side of your toe from a shoe. If you have pain that starts inside the joint, typically that's a sign that there's cartilage damage starting and that's when I worry more." At this point, it may be a good idea to have a chat with your podiatrist about whether or not surgery is the best option for you.

Best Bunion Correctors

Caretras Bunion Corrector,
Best support: Caretras Bunion Corrector — $16.00

Made to adjust to different foot sizes, this bunion corrector has velcro straps and a hidden metal bar to help provide extra support and properly align your big toe.

Pros

  • Adjustable
  • Extra support for alignment

Cons

  • Hard materials
  • Can’t fit inside shoes
ZenToes Bunion Guards Gel Shields
Best uZenToes Bunion Guards Gel Shields — $12.00

This four pack of silicone bunion guards helps absorb friction and keeps your bunion protected from rubbing against your shoe.

Pros

  • Made of silicone
  • Slips over big toe to stay in place
  • Designed to fit in most shoes

Cons

  • May cause friction on or between the toes
NatraCure Gel Toe Separators
Best toe separator: NatraCure Gel Toe Separators — $15.00

New York City podiatrist Nelya Lobkova, DPM at Step Up Footcare says to look for soft materials like gel or neoprene instead of plastic applicators, which rub and irritate the skin. She also recommends correctors that do not actually go over the medial “bump” or bunion, as the skin is already sensitive and shouldn’t have any additional tension. These toe separators are anatomically designed, made of a soft gel, and come in a pack of 12.

Pros

  • Made of a soft gel
  • Minimal design, can fit in most shoes
  • Doesn’t rub against bunion

Cons

  • May slip around in your shoes
Kinesio Kinesiology Tape Tex Gold
Best kinesiology tape: Kinesio Kinesiology Tape Tex Gold — $13.00

“It is safest and most practical to use Kinesio tape as a bunion corrector,” says Dr. Lobkova, because you can work out, shower, sleep, and wear all types of shoes with Kinesio tape. She says “applying Kinesio tape works to realign the misaligned joint and compress the painful tissue overlying the bunion ‘bump.’” If you’re curious about how to apply it, here’s a technique Dr. Lobkova uses.

Kinesio Tex Gold FP is one-inch wide, latex-free (it’s made of cotton), hypoallergenic, and can be worn for 3-5 days continuously. Dr. Lobkova says you can use one piece of the tape to realign the joint.

Pros

  • Made of cotton
  • Can realign and compress bunions
  • Water-resistant and hypoallergenic
  • Can wear in most shoes

Cons

  • Need to spend time applying and apply correctly
Kinesio Tex Classic
Best for working out: Kinesio Tex Classic — $10.00

Another version of Kinesio tape, the Tex Classic is wider, at two inches in width. Dr. Lobkova recommends using one piece of the Clastic style to compress over the “bump.” It’s also water-resistant, latex-free, and hypoallergenic.

Pros

  • Made of cotton
  • Can realign and compress bunions
  • Water-resistant and hypoallergenic
  • Can wear in most shoes

Cons

  • Wider length may not be as comfortable
  • Need to spend time applying and apply correctly
Alayna Bunion Corrector
Best sleeve: Alayna Bunion Corrector — $14.00

For some temporary relief from your bunions, you should look for something that has a snug fit but is not too constrictive, says Evan A. Vieira, DPM, FACFAS. He says silicone materials do this well; this breathable bunion corrector has a silicone gel pad built-in to protect the bunion.

Pros

  • Stretchable fabric
  • Has a silicone gel pad to protect the bunion
  • Can wear in most shoes

Cons

  • May be uncomfortable if worn for long periods
ZenToes Gel Toe Separators
Best wearable toe separator: ZenToes Gel Toe Separators — $12.00

This toe separate is designed to slip over your second toe to help temporarily straighten your big toe. It has a gel cushion for comfort and the flexible gel material conforms to your toes, so you can wear it with a bunion corrector or by itself.

Pros

  • Reusable and washable
  • Easy to use
  • Can wear in most shoes

Cons

  • Doesn’t provide protection for the bunion

Do bunion correctors work?

Yes and no. For bump pain, McEneaney says that a bunion corrector, like this $22 best-seller from Amazon, can help offer some relief. Again, it won't be able to fix your bunion, but it may be effective in reducing some of the redness and inflammation causing pain on the surface of the bump. Additionally, something like a bunion shield ($12) also comes in handy if you want to help decrease bump pain. These are soft silicone gel coverings that you put over your big toe that keep the protruding bone from brushing up against your shoe.

"Those aren't correctors, but those are more bunion shields or bunion splints," Dr. McEneaney says. "Those can be real helpful to people because if you have a shoe where you're getting some friction, they can act as an interface to prevent that friction."

Who should wear a bunion corrector and when should you wear one?

There aren't necessarily any hard or fast rules when it comes to wearing a bunion corrector or a splint (the other symptom-treating option). But depending on the state of your bunion, you may or may not be better off wearing one.

"Anyone with a good range of motion and without a very stiff joint usually find bunion straps and correctors comfortable," says Dr. Jackie Sutera, DPM and podiatrist partnered with shoe company Vionic. "People with severe, stiff or arthritic joints don't have the flexibility and usually have discomfort from trying to push the joint out of its current position."

At the same time, it's important to remember that bunion correctors have limitations, and are, at best, a temporary fix for discomfort and painful symptoms. Also, everyone's experience is different. Therefore, it's best to manage your expectations when it comes to getting relief using these type of products.

"Think of eyeglasses which help you to see when you wear them but don't correct or cure poor vision," Dr. Sutera says. "[Bunion correctors] are devices that when you wear them, can reduce some strain. They do not train, fix, or reverse conditions like bunions, but often times they can offer relief, while wearing them and help you to reduce some pain."

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