A bunion is a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs when some of the bones in the front part of the foot move out of place. This causes the tip of the big toe to get pulled toward the smaller toes and forces the joint at the base of the big toe to stick out. Smaller bunions can develop on the joint of the little toe. The tendency to get bunions can be inherited. They can also be caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes that are too narrow, or arthritis. The skin over the bunion might be red. Pain and stiffness can occur too.

I don’t have bunions, but many of my clients do, so I know a little about how to find shoes that can work with them. Some of these clients have one bunion on one foot, while most have a bunion on each foot and it’s at the base of the big toe. Some of the bunions are on narrow and medium width feet, while others are on wide feet. Some bunions are small, and some larger. Some clients can wear heels, and others not. Some have had surgery to remove their bunions.

Here is what I’ve learned about helping my clients who have bunions to choose footwear.

1. Ample Toe Box

Clients with bunions need wide toe boxes. Sometimes the toe boxes are wide enough when the shoes are roomy in a medium. Sometimes a W or WW width is better. The shoes must also be sufficiently long so that there is space between the tip of the longest toe and the end of the shoe. Do not cram toes!

Shoes should conform to the shape of our feet without squeezing the foot. So we generally avoid pointy toe shoes because they are narrow, and can make bunions worse. Round-toe and square-toe shoes with long toe boxes are a better fit. Sometimes we go up half a size. Sometimes we go up a whole size and remove the footbed of the shoe to insert an orthotic that reduces foot stress.

2. Arch Support

Many of my clients with bunions need shoes that feel supportive on their arches. Often this means a substantial sole that bends as they stride. Sometimes a low heel that is between one and one and a half inches is more comfortable than a flat shoe. Some of my clients wear two inch heels.

3. Soft Fabric

When shoes are leather, super soft leather is best because it stretches over the bunions and becomes comfortable. Knitted and elastic fabric found on sporty shoes works well for the same reason. The fabric moulds over the shape of the bunion providing ample room in the toe box.

4. Shoe Stretching

Sometimes clients don’t need a wide size, but need a little more room for their bunions in one shoe, or both shoes. So they stretch the area of the shoe that covers the bunion with a shoe stretching kit, or have the shoes professionally stretched. This can work for clients with narrow or medium heels who need wide toe boxes. This creates a snug heel fit, while the toe box is roomy.

One of my clients was wearing a WW width shoe, which was sometimes narrow for her wider feet with bunions. We would have the WW boots made of super soft leather stretched around the area of the bunions to create a comfortable fit. She has since had bunion surgery on both of her feet, and now wears roomy shoes, or a W width.

5. Sneakers and Sandals

As a generalization, sneakers and sandals are easier to fit on feet with bunions. Sneakers can run nice and wide and be made of stretchy fabric that is forgiving. Laces can be adjusted to create a better fit too. Sandal straps can be positioned around, instead of over, the bunion, eliminating foot stress. Toe exposure gives toes room to breath too. It’s dressy shoes with closed toe boxes that are the hardest to fit comfortably with bunions, and I wish there was more variety. Still, my clients and I have always found great footwear solutions for dressy attire when we have the time to plan and alter the right footwear.

These tips are by no means exhaustive. Feel free to share your advice on how to comfortably dress shoes with bunions in the comments section, or share your challenges so that we can help out. All resources are welcome.