When bunions sidelined me, I looked for athletic shoes that would get me back to outdoor walking, which I love. Here are my tips for finding bunion-friendly footwear.

Finding bunion-friendly athletic shoes can be a real pain. In my case, it was a double pain because I have two types of bunions: the standard hallux valgus at the base of my big toe and another one on my pinky toe side called a tailor’s bunion, or a bunionette.

I knew I needed a wide shoe, but I didn’t know much else. So, I talked to some experts, tried on tons of shoes at sports specialty stores, and quickly became overwhelmed. Do you know how many hundreds — maybe even thousands! — of athletic shoes there are?

But I kept at it. Here are the answers I discovered to common questions about athletic shoes and bunions, plus some tips from the experts about finding shoes your bunions will love.

A lot. Shoes can affect your bunions by pinching, chafing, and causing pressure points, which can cause pain, blisters, and sores.

A 2020 research review pointed out that proper shoes may help lessen the effect on your bunions, which can help lead to pain-free activity and keep your bunions from worsening.

Partner tip

Lapiplasty® 3D Bunion Correction® is an outpatient surgical procedure designed to correct all three dimensions of the bunion at the root of the problem, which is an unstable joint.

The procedure re-aligns your bones and secures the unstable joint with titanium implants. Patients may transition back into comfortable shoes between 6 and 8 weeks after the procedure.**

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Sandals, dress shoes, flats, boots, and even flip-flops have models that may play nice with bunions. But you can find the largest collection of bunion-friendly shoes in the sneaker section.

Bruce Pinker, a board certified podiatrist and foot surgeon at New Jersey-based Progressive Foot Care, gave a good summary of bunion-friendly shoes: “Athletic shoes for those with bunions should exhibit a wide toe box to accommodate the forefoot, and there should be a firm heel counter for stability, along with a support insole, arch, and midsole.”

What to look for in an athletic shoe for bunions

Here are individual features to look for in bunion-friendly athletic shoes from Derek Roach, owner of Flow Feet Orthopedic Shoes in San Antonio, Texas. He has spent 10 years helping people find shoes for various foot conditions, including bunions.

  • Wide toe box: This feature gives your toes room to splay naturally, promoting a natural foot positioning that evenly distributes weight across your feet. This can help prevent pressure points, especially in the bunion area.
  • Soft or stretchy fabric uppers: A shoe with a knit or stretchy fabric on the upper shoe area can accommodate the bunion protrusion and can be less likely to cause irritation from friction.
  • Seamless interior lining: With a seamless interior lining, you can eliminate irritation or blistering caused by stitching inside the shoe rubbing against the bunion.
  • Contoured insole design: An insole with a deep heel cup and a raised arch support can help anatomically align your foot and lower body to help distribute pressure evenly across your foot and reduce stress on the bunion.
  • Low heel-to-toe drop: Heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference in height between the heel of the shoe and the forefoot. Choosing an athletic shoe with a lower heel-to-toe drop can help reduce pressure on the forefoot and bunion area.

As I searched through in-store and online athletic shoes for bunions, I gathered quite a few tips from experts. Here are the ones I heard most often.

Get a diagnosis

The first thing I learned is how important it is to get a medical diagnosis for your foot issues before going shoe shopping. Otherwise, you risk worsening your bunion or even injuring yourself if you get the wrong shoe.

Make sure the shoe fits

The biggest factor by far in making bunions comfy in an athletic shoe is the fit. Getting a professional to measure your size and analyze your gait can be especially helpful.

“I would always try to get fit in person by an expert, especially if your bunions are feeling more painful,” advised Scott Socha, owner and pedorthist at Foot RX specialty running store in North Carolina. “A shop with a pedorthist on staff is a great option because they can assess gait and determine the foot’s mobility and flexibility.”

Plan your activity

Walking and running are the types of athletic shoes you might see most often. Generally, walkers can use walking or running shoes, but runners may want to steer clear of walking shoes, which tend to be a bit too stiff for running.

Try, try, and try again (and check the return policy)

Experts recommend trying shoes on at a retail store, if at all possible. If not, buy online, but be sure to check the return policy. Even after you find a great shoe, try it on every time you buy a replacement because shoe designs change from year to year.

Consider a foot-shaped toe box

Many athletic shoe toe boxes are round, but foot-shaped ones exist that allow your toes even more room to move and spread during activity. Altra and Topo are two companies that offer this type of shoe.

The jury’s still out on minimalist shoes

I didn’t find minimalist shoes, also called barefoot shoes, to be helpful for my bunions, even though these shoes are wildly popular in various activity circles. These are zero-drop, super flexible, minimally cushioned shoes. My bunions preferred more support and cushioning.

But a 12-week 2022 study found just the opposite. This study investigated the biomechanical effect of minimalist footwear on men with mild bunions. Results showed that minimalist shoes increased the alignment and flexibility of the metatarsophalangeal joint, thus helping restore foot function.

Don’t be afraid of orthopedic shoes

Some orthopedic shoes, also called medical shoes, may have a reputation among certain customers for being unattractive. But the modern generation of orthopedic shoes can be quite stylish and helpful for your bunions as well. Consider the brands Orthofeet, Kuru, and Drew.

Choosing the best shoes for bunions can be challenging and time consuming, but well worth the effort once you find a shoe that lets you stay on your feet pain-free. Make sure the shoe is the right size, fit, and activity level for you.

If your pain continues, keep in mind that surgery may be the only effective treatment for severe bunions that don’t improve. Your doctor can help advise you on what steps to take next.