How to Massage Bunions for Pain Relief

Written by: Kevin Cash



Time to read 18 min

Struggling with bunion pain and need relief? Walking can be incredibly painful for those with bunions. Even a simple stride can feel like a challenge. But the good news is that you can do simple things at home to help reduce bunion discomfort.

This article dives into how massaging can provide comfort against bunion pain. Discover the soothing benefits of bunion massage and learn the most effective techniques. We'll guide you through safe and easy methods to ease your pain, including massages for the big toe and arch.

It's not just about immediate relief; it's about understanding the mechanics behind bunion pain and how it affects your everyday movements. Keep reading to discover how a gentle, at-home massage could make a difference for your feet.

What Is a Bunion

Bunions develop as bony bumps around the joint where the big toe meets the foot. Scientifically called hallux valgus, this condition starts with the big toe leaning towards the second toe. This inward shift pushes the first metatarsal bone outward, leading to the formation of the bunion.

The three types of bunions are:

1. Congenital Bunions - Bunions that are present from birth are known as congenital bunions.

Congenital Bunions

2. Juvenile or Adolescent Hallux Valgus - Juvenile bunions affect younger individuals and can worsen as they grow.

Adolescent Hallux Valgus

3. Tailor’s Bunions - A tailor's bunion can develop at the base of the little toe instead of the big toe.


Some common signs that tell you a bunion is developing are:

  • A noticeable bump at the base of the big toe.

  • Pain, swelling, and redness around the joint.

  • Stiffness that makes moving the toe difficult.

  • Skin problems like corns and calluses, plus numbness in the toe.

It's essential to note that the 'bump' is not the sole concern with bunions. These protrusions can also result in:

  1. Bursitis - Inflammation of the fluid sac near the joint.

  2. Hammertoe - Toes that bend in a claw-like shape.

  3. Metatarsalgia - Pain and swelling in the ball of the foot.

Bunions are quite common, with over THREE million cases reported in the U.S. each year. They clearly show that our feet need more care and better-fitting shoes.

What Causes Bunions?

Bunions can be caused by a number of reasons and it’s not just because of a foot problem. They're a painful reality for many, especially bunion sufferers. About 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 deal with a bunion.

People develop bunions due to various reasons, including:

  1. Inherited Feet - Certain genetic foot types, like flat feet or other abnormal shapes, are identified by experts as primary causes of bunions.

  2. Foot Stress - Activities that exert significant pressure on our feet can contribute to bunion formation.

  3. Health Conditions - Individuals with certain health issues, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, have a higher risk of developing bunions.

  4. Toe Discomfort - Wearing overly narrow shoes is a major factor in bunion development. These shoes compress toes, increasing the likelihood of bunions over time.

  5. Walking Patterns - Sometimes, the way we walk can predispose us to bunions. Muscle imbalances or other foot mechanics may play a role.

  6. Foot Problem History - A history of foot issues, including injuries, increases the likelihood of bunions.

Women get the shorter end of the stick with bunions because they're more likely to have them. This is due to weaker connective tissue in their feet and wearing tight high heels.

By age 10, approximately 2% of children already have bunions. By the time individuals reach adulthood, around 50% are affected by bunions. Adolescent girls, particularly those aged between 10 and 15, frequently develop bunions often due to inheriting bunion-prone feet from a family member. (source)

Moving the big toe might not seem important for younger individuals with bunions. However, bunions can significantly impact movement as we age, making walking more challenging and causing pain during everyday activities.

Can You Get Rid of Bunions?

Unfortunately, you can't remove bunions without surgery once they form because they mostly consist of bone. But the good news is that if you catch a bunion early, you can do a lot to prevent it from getting worse. You can also manage any pain that comes along with it.

Non-surgical options can't change the bunion's structure, but surgery is the most effective way to remove a bunion.

If surgery isn't on your to-do list, you can still do many things. For starters, the right shoes are key. They can stop the bunion from worsening and keep it from getting irritated. Some pads and inserts can help. Certain bunion exercises and massages can also aid with the pain and keep your toe more in line.

Remember, the earlier you spot a bunion and start treating it, the better. So, keep an eye on your feet, especially if bunions run in your family.

Common Treatments for Bunion Pain

Woman wearing comfy slippers
Dealing with bunion pain? You're not alone. Many people face this issue and have found various ways to get relief from this pain. Let's look at common treatments that can help, from simple home care to professional solutions.

Proper Footwear

Wearing the wrong shoes can worsen bunions. Proper footwear is your first line of defense against bunion pain.

What makes the perfect pair of shoes for people who have bunions?

  1. Have Room for Your Toes - Look for shoes with a wide toe box. The extra space lets your toes spread naturally, easing the pressure on your bunion.

  2. Get Support for Your Arches - Shoes with good arch support help your feet distribute weight evenly, taking pressure off the bunion area.

  3. Opt for Flexible Soles - When your shoe bends with your foot, it reduces the strain on your toes, including the bunion.

  4. Choose Comfort First - Say no to shoes that pinch or rub, even if they look great. Comfortable shoes are a must, especially if you're dealing with bunions.

  5. Shop at the End of the Day - Feet swell as the day progresses. Trying on shoes at the end of the day ensures they'll be comfortable all day, accommodating any swelling.

  6. Consider Bunion-Friendly Shoes - These are made with extra space around the big toe joint to keep you comfortable.

Keep in mind that the right shoes can make a big difference in how you feel. They are a crucial part of your bunion self-care routine, helping you shrink bunions naturally.

OTC Pain Relievers

Many people use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to manage bunion pain. They offer fast relief and help manage the aches and soreness often accompanying bunions. These medications are easily found at your local pharmacy.

What to know about OTC pain relievers for bunions:

  • Types of OTC Pain Relievers - Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are your primary treatments. They tackle bunion pain right at its source.

  • How They Work - OTC pain relievers, especially NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen, are good for swelling and pain. They start to kick in within an hour, making your bunion quickly feel much better.

  • A Word of Caution - While pain relievers are great for short-term relief, using them for a long time isn't the best idea. Talk to your doctor if you have certain medical conditions or need bunion pain relief often.

Another option for relief is cortisone injections, which can be especially helpful when bunion pain is intense. This direct approach to managing inflammation can offer significant and often immediate relief.

Cold Therapy

Turning to cold therapy can work wonders when your bunion aches. It's a simple and effective way to dial down the discomfort. The cold from the ice pack fights the swelling and eases the pain by numbing the area.

Cold therapy steps for bunions:

  1. Grab a handful of ice cubes, put them in a plastic bag, and wrap it in a thin cloth to form an ice pack.

  2. Place the ice pack on your bunion.

  3. Let it work its magic for 10 to 20 minutes.

  4. Take off the ice pack and give your foot a break.

Use the ice pack several times daily, especially after you've been on your feet.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are expert guides for your body's movement. They can help fix how you walk, which might contribute to your bunions. Plus, they work on making your foot and toe strong and flexible again.

Therapists use hands-on treatments, special foot movements, and exercises to help your feet heal. Exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your bunion, slightly improving how your toe lines up.

Exercises designed for bunions:

  • Toe Circles - Toe Circles is a simple exercise in which you move your toe in a circle. It helps with stiffness and keeps your big toe joint mobile.

  • Marble Pick-Ups - Picking up marbles with your toes is not only fun but also a great exercise for managing bunions. It boosts the strength and flexibility of all your toes, making your foot more stable.

  • Toe-Spread-Outs - You spread your toes wide for this stretch. It fights stiffness and works out many foot muscles.

These exercises can improve your feelings and help your bunion without surgery when done regularly. They're part of a holistic approach to foot health to improve comfort and mobility.

Braces and Splints

Bunion braces and splints offer a helping hand in the journey to correct joint alignment. They are designed to be worn during daily routines, making it easier to address bunion discomfort.

What are bunion braces and bunion splints?

  • Bunion Braces - Bunion braces are your companions throughout the day. They coax your big toe into better alignment and ease your bunion pain in the process. Wearing them during daily activities can lead to a more comfortable experience.

  • Bunion Splints - While the brace is for active times, the splint takes over at night. The splint gently stretches your big toe away from the other toes to fight pain and slow down bunion growth. It can also be worn during the day if it fits nicely in your shoes.

The longer you wear these braces or splints, the more helpful they can be. They reduce pain and protect against more severe bunions in the future.


Bunion surgery is usually a last resort. However, in some cases, the pain and deformity are so severe that it becomes the best option.

Bunion surgery corrects the toe joint's deformity by removing part of the bone and realigning the surrounding tissues. It typically involves making an incision around the big toe joint, realigning the toe, and often inserting screws or plates to keep everything in place as it heals.

More than 350,000 bunion surgeries are performed in the U.S. every year, making it a common elective forefoot surgery, according to a 2022 study. Surprisingly, up to 10% of patients are unsatisfied after the surgery. This highlights the importance of considering all options and being well-informed.

Steps for recovery from bunion surgery:

  1. Rest and Elevation - Keep your foot rested and elevated to help decrease swelling and pain.

  2. Assistance and Mobility - Get help with daily tasks in the first two weeks. A cane or walker can improve mobility.

  3. Driving Restrictions - Follow the recommended driving restrictions, typically a week or more, to ensure a safe recovery.

Understanding and following these guidelines are essential for a successful and quicker recovery after bunion surgery.


Massaging a bunion will not fix it, but it can make you feel better. By massaging the area around your bunion, you increase blood flow, which can reduce pain.

Here's a simple guide to massaging your bunion:

  1. Be Gentle - Use a soft touch.

  2. Move in Circles - Make small, round movements around your bunion.

  3. Take Your Time - Spend at least a few minutes massaging your bunion.

Want to level up your massage game? Try using massage oil or cream. It's not just about the nice smell or the smooth feel. The oil or cream helps your fingers glide over your skin more easily, making the massage more effective and soothing.

Benefits of Bunion Massage

Woman  stretching her feet with bunion pain

It's important to note that a massage won't make bunions disappear, but it's still a powerful tool for managing the discomfort they cause. Let's explore the benefits of bunion massage:

  • Pain Relief and Mobility - Massaging a bunion targets the sore area, relaxes the tissues and makes you more comfortable. That will help you be able to move around.

  • Ease of Tension and Inflammation - Massaging the area around the bunion tells those inflamed bunion tissues to calm down. This reduces the tension in your foot and the swelling in and around the bunion.

  • Better Blood Flow and Healing - Getting blood to flow better to the bunion means more nutrients and oxygen are available for healing.

  • Stress Reduction - Foot massage, including bunion areas, is known to be relaxing. So, it's not just about the physical relief, it's also good for your mental well-being.

Many believe surgery is the sole solution for bunions, but this isn't always true. Podiatrists or foot doctors have seen how massage helps. A small but significant number of podiatrists recommend bunion massage, according to a survey:

  • Adults - 10% recommend massage for adults with bunions.

  • Older Adults - 7% endorse massage for older individuals.

  • Children - 8% believe massage is beneficial for children with bunions.

These numbers show that although not commonly recommended, some experts consider massage a viable treatment option. Adding massage to your bunion care could make a real difference, maybe even keeping you away from the operating room.

Most Effective Types of Bunion Massage and How to Do Them

Let's dive into the most effective types of bunion massage and the right way to do them. These techniques on how to massage a bunion have been refined to offer relief and promote better foot health.

Big Toe Massage

Man massagin big toe

Big Toe Massage is a fantastic way to help with bunion discomfort. It makes the big toe more flexible and eases the tension in the area where the bunion is. It's something you can do for yourself right at home.

Here's how to perform an effective big toe massage:

  1. Find a Comfortable Spot - Sit in a cozy chair and place the foot with the bunion over your other knee, ensuring easy access to the area you'll be massaging.

  2. Use Both Hands - Position your hands on top of your foot, placing your thumbs between the big toe and the adjacent toe, with your fingers supporting the bottom of your foot.

  3. Apply Gentle Pressure - Press your thumbs into the soft area on top of your foot while using your fingers to support the underside. This targets the small muscles between the long bones of your foot.

  4. Continue for 1 to 2 Minutes - Maintain a steady pressure with your thumbs, gently massaging the top of your foot to help these small muscles relax.

  5. Gently Move the Big Toe - Gently pull your big toe backward with one hand while using the thumb of your other hand to softly press and rub the joint beneath it. Do this for about half a minute to a minute.

  6. Rock the Big Toe - Move the big toe joint back and forth gently for another one to two minutes. This rocking motion promotes flexibility in the joint.

This whole process is not just about the pain from the bunion. Foot massage tips like this can be soothing for bunions and general foot tiredness.

Myofascial Release

Self-myofascial release is a simple and effective way to ease bunion pain. This method targets specific pain points and helps stretch and relax foot muscles.

Let's break down the steps of self-myofascial release using a tennis ball:

  1. Position the Tennis Ball - Sit comfortably and position the tennis ball under your foot.

  2. Roll It Smoothly - Apply gentle pressure and roll the ball forward and backward along the length of your foot.

  3. Pause and Apply Pressure - Whenever you encounter a tight or tender area, pause the rolling motion and apply gentle pressure to that spot. Hold this pressure for a brief moment while taking deep breaths.

  4. Repeat - Continue the rolling motion for 5 to 10 minutes, covering the entire surface of your foot. You can perform this routine multiple times throughout the day for optimal results.

When done consistently, this practice can bring significant relief. It's a great addition to your daily routine, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet.

Read more about the best self-myofascial release tool.

Pain Relief Gua Sha Myofascial Tool

Arch Massage

Arch massage is a powerful tool in the fight against foot pain, especially when dealing with sensitive bunions. This hands-on technique works wonders for the entire foot, easing discomfort and relaxing muscles affected by issues like plantar fasciitis.

Here's how to perform an arch massage:

  1. Find a Comfortable Position - Sit in a comfortable and relaxing spot where your foot is easily accessible.

  2. Prep Your Thumbs - Use both thumbs with moderate pressure to knead the soft tissue of your arch. Begin at the heel and gradually move towards the ball of your foot. Spend 1 to 2 minutes on this kneading motion.

  3. Try Knuckles for Deeper Relief - Utilize your knuckles for deeper relief. Make a fist and glide from the heel towards your toes, applying gentle pressure.

  4. Repeat and Relax - Continue these massage motions for 5 to 10 minutes, ensuring to cover the entire arch area. Take deep breaths and relax as you massage.

Arch massage isn't just about the physical act, it's about taking time to care for yourself. When you focus on kneading out the tension, you also give your mind a break.

Hallux Valgus Release

To begin the Hallux Valgus Release, make sure you're seated comfortably. Place the foot you're working on over the opposite thigh. This position keeps the foot relaxed and easy to work with.

Here are the steps for a Hallux Valgus massage:

  1. Separate Your Toes - Begin by separating your first and second toes. This helps access the inner base of your big toe. Use your fingers to locate the sensitive area.

  2. Apply Gentle Pressure - Position your thumb on the top of your foot and your pointer finger near the sore spot. Apply gentle pressure, adjusting it to your comfort level.

  3. Maintain Steady Pressure - While applying pressure, use your other hand to gently bend and extend your big toe or try gently pulling on it. These movements help release tension.

  4. Explore Different Angles - Move around the base of your big toe, exploring different angles and spots. This helps increase the range of motion in your toe joint.

  5. Continue for 3 to 10 Minutes - Repeat these steps for 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the soreness or stiffness of your toe. You'll feel the tension ease and notice increased flexibility in your toe as the massage progresses.

This method is all about finding what works best for you. Listening to your body and keeping the foot relaxed are key.

Ice Massage

Ice massage is a quick and powerful way to ease bunion pain and decrease swelling. This method also improves comfort and mobility, setting the stage for healthier feet.

Here's a brief guide for performing an ice massage for bunions:

  1. Protect Your Skin - Use gloves or a small towel to protect your skin from direct contact with the ice.

  2. Glide in Circles - Apply light pressure as you move the ice in circular motions around the bunion. Continue this motion until the area feels numb, typically for 5 to 10 minutes.

Regularly doing this can lead to healthier feet by making your bunion more comfortable. Just be sure to watch your skin closely to avoid frostbite.

Electric Massage

Electric massage tools are a blessing for restorative foot massage, making the daily care of bunions much easier. These foot massagers do the work for you, gently easing your pain. While they're not bunion specialists, they do a great job relaxing tired and achy feet.

Using an electric massager for your daily bunion massage is simple. Follow these steps to maximize its benefits:

  1. Start by setting the massager to a low intensity. It's a gentle way to begin.

  2. Put your feet on the massager and let it warm your muscles for about 30 seconds.

  3. If you feel comfortable, increase the intensity to a level that's right for you.

  4. Enjoy the massage for 10 to 15 minutes. Let your feet soak up the relaxation.

  5. You can do this a few times a day whenever you need it.

Remember, bunion severity varies from person to person. To be safe, talk to your doctor before using electric massage tools.

Risks of Bunion Massage

Man massages under his feet

Unlike other body parts, the foot has less cushioning from muscle and fat, making it more sensitive. Feet and toes are also very sensitive to heat, so using gentle and comfortable warmth during massage is crucial.

When massaging your bunion, the key is to:

  • Not Force It - Stop if a massage technique hurts more than the bunion pain. Some discomfort is normal, but the pain isn't.

  • Watch Out for Sores - If you have open sores, don't massage them. It's best to avoid those areas completely.

  • Listen to Your Body - Seek medical advice if the pain worsens or you feel strange sensations during or after a massage. This is especially important if you have painful foot conditions that are getting worse.

Gentle massage can be soothing if you're dealing with bunions. Just be sure to work carefully around the challenges of foot anatomy and the area's sensitivity.

When to See a Doctor

​Doctor checking bunion pain

Consulting a podiatrist could be beneficial if bunion pain makes each step difficult. They can monitor bunion development and offer effective solutions for pain relief, including short-term remedies and long-term management strategies.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe Pain - When your persistent bunion pain becomes unbearable and starts interfering with your daily activities, it's a clear sign to seek help from a podiatrist. This is especially important if you've already exhausted home remedies.

  • Discomfort That Won't Quit - If finding shoes that don't hurt is becoming a never-ending quest, a podiatrist can help. They understand the importance of comfortable footwear and can guide you to the proper shoe choices.

  • Visible Signs of Trouble - Redness, swelling, or warmth in the bunion area are warning signs that something is wrong. A podiatrist can offer solutions to keep these symptoms in check.

  • Big Toe Deformation - When your big toe starts changing its ways because of the bunion, it's time for expert advice. A podiatrist can help you maintain proper toe function.

If a bunion is left unchecked, it can lead to serious issues, especially for those with diabetes. Foot problems in diabetics can escalate quickly, making early intervention crucial.

Bunion Massage FAQs

1. Is It Good to Massage a Bunion?

Massaging a bunion can bring temporary relief by easing the tension in the area and helping with blood flow. This might make the bunion hurt less for a while, and make the skin and muscles around it more flexible. But be gentle. Don't press too hard or do anything that irritates the bunion.

2. How Do You Release Bunions?

Correcting bunions usually involves a mix of methods, with conservative treatments being the go-to for most people. These include special padding for the bunion, changing to roomier shoes, and using custom shoe inserts. If the bunion is very painful, surgery might be an option, but that's only for severe cases.

3. What Is Inside a Bunion?

A bunion is a bony bump that forms at the base of your big toe, marking where bones have moved out of their natural alignment. The shift in these bones, particularly in the front area of your foot, creates this protrusion.

4. How Can I Straighten My Bunions at Home?

Bunion management at home may involve wearing supportive shoes with a wide toe box, using orthotic inserts for extra support and alignment, and doing foot strengthening exercises. These measures can help alleviate discomfort and prevent further progression of bunions.

5. What Is the Fastest Way to Heal a Bunion?

The speediest path to healing a bunion centers on easing the pressure and calming the inflammation. Optimal healing begins with the right footwear. Shoes with a wide toe box are a must. They give your toes the space they need, preventing further irritation.