Shoes for bunions provide extra room in the toe box to relieve pressure on and irritation of bunions.
Other aspects of their design and construction alleviate the pain and discomfort produced by this condition. That includes agreeable materials, supportive insoles, and – in some cases – zero-drop outsoles that more closely mimic a natural gait.
While there are many fine, purpose-built shoes for dealing with bunions, some of the best and most versatile are standard athletic shoes that just happen to feature the above-mentioned attributes.
We examined scores of shoes of every imaginable make and model and polled bunion sufferers to get their input as well. The end result is the following list of the best shoes for bunions of 2020.
1. Altra Women’s Intuition Running Shoe
The makers of this shoe had your bunions in mind from day one. The wide toe box, the zero-drop sole, the breathability, and the gentle way the material treats your affected areas all grab high marks for thoughtfulness and effectiveness.
What we like: We really like the zero-drop sole of these shoes. It promotes a much more natural gait. They’re also grippy as can be with their natural rubber soles. And there’s plenty of room in the toe box.
Flaws: If you’re not used to running in zero-drop shoes, they’re going to take some getting used to. Best to ease your way into it.
2. Asics Men’s GT-4000 Running Shoes
Asics Men’s GT-4000 Running Shoes provide a surprisingly roomy toe box along with plenty of support and breathability. The shell stretches amicably, the grip is outstanding, and if you suffer from plantar fasciitis as well, there’s plenty of shock absorption to help with that.
What we like: We like the way these shoes provide all-day comfort for those with mild-to-moderate bunion issues. And we appreciate the Asics build quality. If you’re a runner with bunions, the GT-4000 can likely help keep you on the road.
Flaws: They’re expensive. The color choices are also questionable.
3. Skechers Men’s Go Max Walking Shoe
A great shoe for bunions doesn’t have to be complex. It just needs to be a little wider than average, provide some decent support, and not irritate your bunion while you walk. The Skechers Men’s Go Max checks all those boxes.
What we like: We appreciate the simplicity of this shoe. It’s easy comfort. It’s spacious toe box. And its firm support. We like how breathable the shoes are and how effectively they gobble up impacts. They’re also available in 9 different colors.
Flaws: They’re firm. That’s not really a flaw, but it might surprise some people expecting them to be soft and squishy.
4. Altra Women’s One Running Shoe
The Altra Women’s One Running Shoe makes getting back on the track easier than ever. The zero-drop sole, wide toe box, and outstanding support throughout allow you the luxury of actually forgetting about your bunions for a while.
What we like: We like that Altra goes the extra mile to provide space in the toe box. For those with more advanced bunions, these will hit the sweet spot. There’s also virtually no drop from heel to toe, which takes a lot of pressure off your digits.
Flaws: The soles are grippy, but they’re also squeaky on shiny surfaces. And there isn’t a lot of vertical space inside.
5. Orthofeet Men’s Boat Shoes
Because you can’t wear athletic shoes everywhere, there’s the Orthofeet Men’s Boat Shoes. These are as stylish as they are effective at releasing you from shoe-induced bunion pain. Great for casual Fridays or any type of vacation or weekend outing.
What we like: We like the soft, stretchable leather upper. Build quality is also first-rate heel to toe. There’s enough room for your bunions, but not so much your toes are flopping around inside. They’re stylish casual shoes with a practical side.
Flaws: Arch support isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And the soles, while providing shock relief, aren’t very grippy.
6. adidas Women’s Barricade Court Tennis Shoe
The minute you look at the adidas Women’s Barricade, you sense that it’s not messing around. It’s low and wide and agreeable yet firm. It’s light and supportive and breathable and soaks up shocks like a sponge. Ideal for less severe bunions.
What we like: The Barricade provides better than average space for your toes along with a fit that’s snug but not constricting. The sole does a good job soaking up shocks, while the midsole provides lots of arch support and all-day comfort.
Flaws: The shoe exhibits some curious design choices. The redesigned sole, in particular, which is also narrower than it used to be.
7. Brooks Women’s Adrenaline Running Shoe
Brooks is a consistent style winner. Somehow they manage to grab the brass ring even while accommodating bunions. It’s a neat trick. If you want a great looking shoe that alleviates pain and lets you run like the wind, here it is.
What we like: We like how comfortable these shoes are even for those with more advanced bunions. They provide lots of toe room, plenty of arch support, and absorb shocks really well, which makes them useful for plantar fasciitis too.
Flaws: They come in narrow, standard and wide. Don’t pick the wrong ones. The heel drop is also larger than ideal.
8. Propet Men’s Vista Strap Shoe
The Propet Men’s Vista Strap Shoe occupies a middle ground between the athletic shoe and the formal shoe. It’s handsome genuine leather stylings are undermined a wee bit by the Velcro straps. But it’s gentle on your besieged big toe.
What we like: We like how breathable, comfortable and stretchable these shoes are. The leather has a high-grade, supple feel to it that’s very satisfying. And the toe box is wide without being cavernous. Great for early-stage bunions.
Flaws: They have all the visual appeal of cake without frosting. And arch support isn’t exactly robust.
9. Dr. Comfort Annie X Shoe
The Annie X from Dr. Comfort is comfortable, practical, and durable, with a spacious lycra toe box that’s built to accommodate. The Velcro strap lets you achieve just the right fit with minimal fuss, and the soles grip any surface.
What we like: Spacious, forgiving and supportive are just a few of the words we would use to describe these shoes. They cradle your feet instead of trying to force control upon them. At the same time, the leather and the single Velcro strap provide natural comfort.
Flaws: They’re not just wide in the toe box, they’re wide period.
10. Orthofeet Men’s Carnegie Loafers
The Orthofeet Men’s Carnegie Loafers slip on easy, fasten down tightly and provide hours of pain-free functionality. They open up wide to let your feet in, and the seam-free interior is just what the podiatrist ordered.
What we like: We like the way these shoes feel from the moment you slip them on. There’s lots of non-binding comfort with plenty of space in the toe box. We like the way the gel heel absorbs shocks, and build quality is outstanding throughout.
Flaws: Like a lot of specialty shoes they won’t win any beauty contests. Also, your feet will get pretty hot on summer days.
Who Needs Shoes for Bunions?
Here’s where we don our Captain Obvious cape and say that people with bunions need shoes for bunions. It is painfully obvious, but at the same time there are many people in the early stages of the condition who don’t realize such shoes exist. And that these shoes can save them from starting down a slippery slope to surgery that may or may not work. So we state the obvious to let them know that a lifetime of painful bunions does not have to be inevitable.
Beyond that, anyone interested in not developing bunions can also benefit from this type of shoe. That’s a pretty large demographic group to be sure. But it’s true. If you spend a lot of time on your feet and have a habit of wearing high heels or other uncomfortable footwear, switching to this type of shoe before serious problems set in can save you a world of hurt.
How We Ranked
When trying to determine which shoes for bunions warranted inclusion on the above list, there were a few fundamental criteria we applied. Of course, the shoes had to provide ample room in the toe box. And that was the case whether they were standard issue running shoes from a major manufacturer or a specialty shoe from a little known company.
Regardless of the style of shoe, they also needed to exhibit minimal heel to toe drop. Because in many cases, it is this downward slant toward the toe that is a contributing factor in the development of bunions. That is why you don’t see any heels on our list.
Shoes for bunions also shouldn’t be too narrow at any point. Or have a design that looks good but requires the foot to do things it wasn’t designed to do. So we had to eliminate some shoes that had room in the toes but otherwise didn’t cut it. If a shoe also provided ample arch support and had the kind of cushioning that could alleviate the pain of plantar fasciitis, even better. Since the two conditions sometimes go hand in hand.
Finally, while we did consider price it was typically a secondary or tertiary consideration. That’s because shoes for bunions must be well made from high-quality materials so that they won’t become misshapen and lose their ability to provide relief. And, as we all know, quality materials and quality construction cost money.
Shoes for bunions alleviate pain and discomfort. This is the primary reason people invest in these types of shoes. The pain from bunions can be significant. Each time a person with a bunion takes a step, they’re reminded of that fact. The average person takes some 4,000 steps per day (1). That’s a lot of painful reminders. Shoes for bunions will make each of those steps less painful. It’s as simple as that.
Shoes for bunions help prevent isolation in the elderly. The specter of isolation hangs over most older folks (2). In many cases, when it does occur, it’s because a physical malady has made it difficult for them to get around. Or generated fear inside them that it may prompt a fall from which they may not recover (3). Shoes for bunions can counteract the negative effects of bunions and allow seniors to stay engaged in life.
Shoes for bunions allow you to walk normally again. As their bunion becomes more and more pronounced, people often adopt gaits intended to compensate. This is asking for trouble down the line. A far better course of action is to get a good pair of shoes for bunions and to go back to your normal walking motion. The back pain, knee problems, and sciatica you don’t get will make it worth the switch.
Shoes for bunions can fend off the need for surgery. In some cases a bunion will progress to the stage that surgery becomes inevitable (4). But things don’t have to get to that point. Switching to the right shoes early on can dramatically slow the progression of the condition. As a result, you may fend off the need for surgery altogether.
Shoes for bunions come in lots of different styles. Shoes designed specifically to deal with foot problems tend to have an uninspired look about them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are many styles of ordinary footwear that will also provide for the needs of bunions sufferers. These include everything from running shoes to formal shoes. So there’s no need to be stylistically challenged just because you have a bunion.
Shoes for bunions can help address other foot problems as well. Many of the same shoes that effectively address bunions also address other foot problems. And that’s good because it’s not unusual for the presence of bunions to cause other maladies (5). For instance, a painful bunion may cause a person to change the way they walk. This in turn may put added strain on the arch of the foot and cause plantar fasciitis (6).
Shoes for bunions can prevent Morton’s neuroma. High heels bring tremendous force to bear on the foot. Often the toes and connecting tissues are jammed into a narrow, undersized space at the front of the shoe. One of the results of which is a condition called ‘Morton’s neuroma’ (7). Morton’s neuroma can create pain and numbness. Shoes for bunions with their wide toe box can be used to both prevent and treat Morton’s neuroma.
Shoes for bunions enhance overall mobility. We all take our mobility for granted until something happens. In the case of bunions, the pain and stiffness can be such that it impairs mobility to a significant degree. Being immobile can lead to isolation for the elderly. But it can have devastating consequences for younger people too (8). Shoes for bunions can improve mobility and prevent health problems related to inactivity.
Shoes for bunions are an affordable alternative to physical therapy. As valuable as physical therapists are engaging their services is not cheap (9). Neither are some of the better shoes for bunions for that matter. The difference? Your shoes may cost the same as a single visit to the PT, but they’re a one-time expense. Once you have the shoes, they may serve you well for years.
Shoes for bunions can prevent bunions. This may well be the most significant benefit of this type of shoe. Because it’s better to wear the right shoes now and never develop bunions than to discover this type of shoe only after you’ve discovered a bunion has developed on your foot. In that sense, the people best served by shoes for bunions are those who have not developed bunions.
Shoes for bunions can get you running again. When they first discover they have a bunion or bunions, runners sometimes despair that they will never run again. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Especially if they catch the condition when it’s still in its early stages (10). A good pair of athletic shoes with plenty of space in the toe box and not a lot of drop from heel to toe can get you back in the race.
Shoes for bunions are actually very comfortable. This is one of the first things people realize when they buy a pair of shoes for bunions. And not just comfortable with regard to the bunions. But comfortable in general. Unleashing your feet from the constraints of ‘regular’ shoes can be a revelation. You may never want to go back to cramped, narrow toe shoes again.
Q: What are bunions?
A: A bunion is a bony protrusion that occurs at the base of the big toe. In a nutshell, it’s the result of the metatarsal bone splaying outward away from the rest of the foot and dragging the big toe outward with it. Bunions are typically a slow-motion health problem that develops over the course of years. It may happen so gradually that people are not aware of it. That is, until the damage is already done.
Q: Who is most likely to get bunions?
A: Bunions are known to affect people of all ages and backgrounds. They don’t care if you’re famous, infamous or unknown, or if you’re rich or poor. That said there’s ample evidence that older individuals and women are particularly susceptible to developing bunions (11). First of all, because a bunion typically takes a significant amount of time to manifest. And second, because women’s footwear has been historically bad for their feet.
Q: Do I need to have surgery to remove bunions?
A: Surgery should always be a last resort consideration. First and foremost, because there is no guarantee it will work. And it may, in fact, make things worse. In addition, overweight individuals who have surgery but don’t lose weight will likely have to repeat the surgery. And that is true even if the surgery was effective. Changing the shoes you wear is the most important thing you can do to alleviate pain and bring the matter under control.
Q: What are the early signs of bunions?
A: The earlier you catch a developing bunion, the better your chances of preventing it from progressing to the point that it reduces your quality of life. Early symptoms include pain and redness, inflammation, and/or a burning sensation in the joint between the metatarsal and phalange bones of the big toe (12). If you ignore these symptoms, they will only get worse and will eventually demand drastic measures to deal with them.
Q: Does obesity cause bunions?
A: There is little proof that obesity by itself can cause bunions. Although we know it can be a contributing factor. Essentially, anything that brings excessive force to bear on the bones of the feet – including obesity – is a potential contributor to bunions. eIn addition, research indicates that obese patients who undergo bunion surgery stand a much greater chance of having to repeat that surgery at a later date than non-obese patients do (13).
Q: Are bunions the same thing as gout?
A: No, bunions and gout are not the same thing (14). A bunion is a disfigurement of the bones of the big toe caused by punishing footwear, genetics, or other causes. Gout, on the other hand, is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints. Dietary modifications can effectively control gout. However, that is not the case with bunions. While the pain generated by the two conditions may be similar, both causes and treatments are very different.
Q: Do I have to give up regular shoes if I have bunions?
A: You do not necessarily have to give up regular shoes if you have bunions. But you may well have to modify them if you are to minimize pain and discomfort while you walk. There are a couple of methods for doing this. The first is to find a shop that will stretch your shoes for you. Or you could purchase a shoe stretcher (15) and do it yourself. Your other option is to use orthotic inserts for bunions. They’re available by prescription or over the counter.
Q: How long does it take for bunions to go away?
A: The good news is that the right shoes can minimize the pain and discomfort of bunions. The bad news is that unless you undergo surgery, the bunion is not going to go away. No matter how long you wear the right shoes. The best course of action is to get the right kind of shoes, bring your weight down and avoid things that might aggravate the condition.
Q: Which painkillers are most effective for bunions?
A: Painkillers are not the preferred method for dealing with bunions. But there may come a time when they are necessary to control pain. In which case, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, etc.), aspirin, or naproxen sodium (Alleve) may help. In cases of sustained, severe pain a cortisone injection (16) may be called for. But that’s something you’ll need to discuss with your doctor.
Q: Can bunions lead to other problems?
A: Yes, bunions can and often do lead to other problems. A bunion is a deformation of the bones of the foot and big toe. This deformation can cause a person to alter the way they walk. This, in turn, can cause problems with posture and gait and lead to muscle strain and joint problems in the ankles, knees, and hips. Eventually, this unnatural distribution of weight and stress can cause problems with the spinal column.
Q: What is the best shoe material for bunions?
A: In many cases you’ll notice shoes for bunions are fashioned from leather. Leather has some distinct advantages over other materials, starting with the fact that it stretches over time. You can also stretch it to make way for a bunion. Leather is also reasonably breathable and looks good. Synthetic materials like those used in many running shoes are light, breathable, and easy on your feet. But they can’t be stretched like leather, and they won’t last as long.
Q: Are my running shoes to blame for my bunions?
A: It is possible. Running shoes sometimes contribute to the development of a bunion or bunions. Many types of running shoes feature what’s called a ‘drop’ from the heel toward the toe. The drop causes the heel to strike the ground first. Which is something many runners consider beneficial in promoting a more effective stride. Others disagree. The drop also tends to shove the foot forward in the shoe. And that’s how they may promote bunions.
Q: Can I wear high heels if I have bunions?
A: In many cases, the constant wearing of high heels plays a central role in the development of bunions. With each step, tremendous forces bear down on the front of the foot, which is often shoved into a tight, narrow toe box. It’s a recipe for disaster and not the fate nature intended for your feet. If you have bunions, the best thing to do would be to retire your high heels for good. But if you must wear heels, try to wear less extreme ones.
Q: Why do shoes for bunions have wide toe boxes?
A: Bunions are characterized by the bony protrusion extending outward from the base of the big toe. ‘Regular’ shoes are not designed to accommodate this. As such, they pinch and press on the bunion, often causing intense pain. Shoes for bunions don’t have to be made specifically for bunions. All they really need is to have a wide toe box that alleviates pressure on the bunion. That will, in turn, lessen the pain.
Q: Do socks contribute to or aggravate bunions?
A: They can and sometimes do. Cotton socks, in particular, can create a lot of irritation as they rub back and forth over the bunion. It’s best to use thin socks made from nylon or another synthetic fabric that is not likely to irritate the skin. Also, there are socks available that have integrated pads that provide cushioning for the affected area. There are also bunion sleeves you can buy that provide the same function.
Q: Are there other ways to treat bunions besides special shoes?
A: There are several different ways to treat bunions besides buying special shoes. Most involve physical therapy of some kind, including gait retraining. Gait retraining teaches you how to walk in a way that takes the pressure off the bunion without throwing your body out of whack. Ice therapy, shoe inserts and specially designed bunion splints (17) are also popular. But you should always start with getting the right shoes.
Q: Can’t I just live with bunions?
A: It’s your life. You can choose to do nothing if you wish. However, choosing to do nothing about a bunion is roughly akin to doing nothing to address arthritis. The condition is only going to get worse. And you will wind up subjecting yourself to a lot of unnecessary pain and discomfort. While shoes for bunions won’t cure the condition, they can and do greatly reduce both pain and discomfort. And that enhances your overall quality of life in numerous ways.
Q: If I have surgery will I still need to wear shoes for bunions afterward?
A: Once the surgery is complete, you will likely be told to wear a special shoe or boot for a period of time. Once the surgeon determines you have healed adequately, and there are no complications, you should be able to wear whatever shoes you wish. It would be in your interest, however, to continue to wear these types of shoes just to ward off future problems.
Q: How can I avoid getting bunions?
A: As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And that’s never more true than when it comes to bunions. In some cases, the actual cause of the bunion may be elusive. But in most cases, bunions can be traced pretty convincingly to specific causes. And as often as not that cause is footwear. If you wear high heels or other high-risk footwear and you are lucky enough not to have developed a bunion yet, it’s in your interest to stop wearing them now and find another way to make a fashion statement.
What does the term ‘hallux valgus’ mean?
A: Latin is the de facto language of science. Or at least scientific terminology. Scientists use it because the definitions of ancient Latin words don’t change over time, and they’re the same regardless of what country the scientist is from. Since consistency and exactitude are crucial to the scientific endeavor having names with fixed meanings is important. As for ‘hallux valgus’: ‘hallux’ means ‘big toe’ in Latin, and ‘valgus’ means ‘bent outward’. Which is precisely what happens with a bunion.
Shoes for bunions are a common-sense way to both treat bunions and prevent them from happening in the first place. Some are purpose-built to do exactly that. Others are ‘normal’ shoes that provide the kind of space in the toe box that’s conducive to bunion relief.
Shoes for bunions will help you curtail the progression of this condition and enable you to exercise, work, and even run. At the same time, they’ll enable older individuals to remain actively engaged in life. They can also save you a lot of money you might otherwise feel compelled to spend on physical therapy.
Regardless of their target demographic, all the shoes on our list will provide relief from the pain and discomfort of hallux valgus. Use the above information to help you determine which shoes for bunions are right for you.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended shoes for bunions, click here.