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Bunion Pain When Running

By Eric Mohrman ; Updated August 14, 2017

Bunions are bumps at the base of the big toe, on the outer side of the toe. They form when the big toe turns inward toward the second toe, gradually altering the big toe's skeletal structure. The angle of the bone causes a protrusion, and inflammation and pain may result. Bunions can make running particularly painful and difficult.


Ill-fitting shoes, particularly those with tight toe boxes, create friction and pressure on toes, aggravating bunions and causing pain while running. Running also increases repetitive pressure on the big toe's joint and the ball of the foot, another source of bunion pain.

Bunions themselves tend to form in people with particular foot structures, meaning some people have an inherited predisposition. Foot injuries and congenital skeletal defects also sometimes lead to bunions. Bunions are also commonly seen in people with degenerative or inflammatory types of arthritis. Wearing shoes that constrict the toes can exacerbate the condition.


Pain while running signals that a bunion is being aggravated. An increase in symptoms such as redness, swelling and inflammation is likely. The friction can thicken the skin around the bunion over time as well. Bunions, which angle the big toe toward its neighboring toe, create pressure and friction between the two digits. Running increases friction, and in combination with foot sweat, corns and calluses easily develop between the big toe and second toe. Restricted big toe movement and ongoing pain while walking can also result from the aggravation.

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Running shoes with ample space for the toes helps prevent bunion pain during and after a run. With bunions that aren't too prominent, padding may be adequate for preventing pain. Some others require custom-made orthotic shoe inserts. A piece of foam about 1 cm thick inserted between the big toe and the second toe eliminates friction. Podiatrists and sports trainers provide instructions for properly taping a foot with a bunion to prevent pain as well.


Over-the-counter pain medications treat bunion pain from running in many instances. Ibuprofen, naproxen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, otherwise known as NSAIDs, are likely to be effective. An ice pack after a run reduces pain and inflammation as well. If pain lingers, heat can be of benefit too. Heating pads and foot soaks in hot water with or without Epsom salt may also be helpful.


If running becomes too painful due to a bunion, there are more lasting options to treat the bunion and prevent pain. Injection therapy with corticosteroids is an option for some. A variety of surgical options exist. These include excision of the swollen tissue around the big toe's joint, skeletal realignment, straightening the big toe by removing affected bone and permanently attaching the bones of the problematic joint.

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