If you are not one of the three million-plus people suffering from the debilitating foot condition known as Hallux Valgus, or Bunions in layman’s terms, then consider yourself lucky. My Uncle Lou sure felt down on his luck in 2006, when his Hallux Valgus reached Stage 3 and he could no longer run for sport. You see, running had brought my Uncle vigor and meaning. As a young man he ran to clear his mind and escape the violence of the Brooklyn flat he called home. He never stopped, and eventually he ran himself right onto the track team at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Even after failing off of the team, Uncle Lou continued to run nearly every single day. That is, until 2004 when he developed a painful tenderness in his big toe. Many days he pushed through the pain like a champion, but the family could tell he was hurting and the pain was effecting his mental state.
Unable to escape to the solidarity that running brought him, my Uncle became unhappy and distant. After years of watching him struggle with countless failed remedies, my wonderful Aunt Cindy sought the advice of a friend who worked as a physical therapist. He gave my Uncle five exercises -the “Holy Five” as my Uncle now jokingly refers to them- that would be the ultimate factor in finally getting bunion pain under control. These exercises brought a new life to my Uncle; a definitive plan he could follow and see progress. Ten years later I am happy to report Uncle Lou is back on the track and can dust me in a race any day (though he still does his exercises twice a day, morning and night).
Without further ado, I present the “Holy Five” exercises that helped my Uncle conquer his bunions:
The Marble Drop
This exercise is similar to the Toe Grabs. You will need 10 marb les or small stones and a bowl. Spread the marbles out by your bare feet. Pick the marbles up one by one, using your toes, and drop them into the bowl. When you have completed one set, empty the bowl and repeat. This exercise is also valuable for strengthening the tibialis anterior muscle.
Toe Stretch and Resist
Manually stretching and manipulating your toes is an invaluable tool for combating mobility issues and helping to return your toes to proper alignment. Start by using your fingers to gently pull the big toe into its proper position. Hold the toe in position for 10 seconds and then release it. Repeat this stretch four to five times. Next grab your big toe with the hand that is on the same side of your body and firmly grasp your bunion with the opposite hand to hold the foot in place. Use your hand to rotate the toe in a circle, 15-25 repetitions one way and 15-25 the other. Finally, move the toe in a Figure 8 pattern 15 times one way then 15 times the opposite way.
Now that we have loosened the muscles that are pulling your toes out of alignment, we must strengthen them to account for the imbalances that drew them out of position to start with. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and wrap a towel or string around your big toe. Pull the strings in towards your body while simultaneously pushing against the string with your big toe. Hold this position for five to ten seconds and repeat five times. You should not apply so much force that it hurts, but the string should provide a fair amount of resistance.
Toe Flex and Contract
Sit in a chair or prop your foot up on a table or another object. Start by curling your toes in and holding the position for three seconds. Make sure to really squeeze the muscles in your toes. Now relax and stretch your toes out as far and high as you can for three seconds. Repeat each motion five times. This is another valuable exercise for increasing mobility in problem areas.
From a standing position start by curling all of your toes up off the floor towards the ceiling. Keeping the others raised, touch only your little toe to the floor then raise it back to the level of your other toes. Repeat this ten times.
For an extra challenge try the advanced method: Again while standing, curl your toes off of the floor. Hold your three middle toes in the air and simultaneously lower your big and little toe to the floor then return them in unison. These two exercises will strengthen a number of muscles in your feet and work to correct the muscular imbalances that promote bunions.
Bonus Recovery Tips
A few tips my Uncle shared were instrumental in returning him to active condition:
1) Go for a barefoot walk along the beach. The sand provides a firm but forgiving surface that will massage your feet and increase blood flow. The extra force necessary to push off from the sand will also help to strengthen your toes.
2) Massage your feet. Muscle tightness is a major factor in bunion formation, and a nice foot massage can help relieve this tightness and improve your pain levels. If you have a golf ball you can place it on the pad of your foot and gently roll it around, focusing on areas that feel painful. This is where your muscles are tightest and you will experience the best results. You can also use your hands to apply force. Massage in an hourglass-like pattern where the thumbs comes together in the middle of your foot while separating towards the extremities. This is the most effective method for loosening your adductor muscles. Over time, gradually apply more force. Your muscles are very tough and the deeper you can dig into them, the more tissue you will be able to break down and synthesize for repair.
3) Make some space for your toes. Years ago my uncle used to wrap a torn-up rag around his foot to keep his toes in alignment and create a buffer between his shoes and his aggravated bunion. Today there are a number of professional grade products that serve these functions with the style and comfort that Uncle Lou’s method was lacking. The DR JK BunionPal is a versatile five-piece system that offers protection and pain relief for all of your activities, and even while you sleep. The BunionPal system is unisex, made from top-quality medical SEBS gel, and has been praised by thousands of satisfied customers who are managing their bunion pain more effectively. Consider supplementing your therapy exercises with the BunionPal to achieve quicker and more effective results.
4) Consistency is key. Recovering from any ailment is a journey that is rarely a quick or enjoyable experience. If you follow the advice in this article you will see results, but it is vital that you perform these exercises on a consistent basis. Aim to do them at least twice a day. The more effort you put into your recovery, the more satisfied you will be with your results. Don’t get discouraged! Recovery is a process and it will take some time, but stick to it. In the end you will be glad you did.
Do you have any tips that have helped to relieve your bunion pain? Share them in the comments below.