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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Buying running shoes for bunions: an updated list of recommendations

One of my most-viewed posts is one I did years ago about buying running shoes. This is a particularly hard task for runners who, like me, suffer from bunions. Since I wrote that post, new shoes have hit the market and new technologies are available to help us make the shoe choice, so here goes an update!

1. First and foremost, look for a wide toe box. The best new tool to help you find a shoe that fits nice and wide in the toe box is Shoefitr. It allows you to compare models, so if one model worked for you, you can find a similar fit in a different shoe. The technology is also used in shoe reviews; when I read Running Times' shoe reviews I always look for the nice "roomy" blue or green over the bunion area!
OUCH! This is the Adidas adiZero Aegis 2: super tight over the bunion! 
Brands that typically have wider toe boxes (please add comments to this - I'm always looking for truly wide toe boxes!):
- Brooks, especially Pure Project
- Saucony: consistently wider forefoot styles
- Mizuno: Some styles
2. Find a shoe with a mesh or soft fabric upper and minimal overlay at the bunion area. This is key. You want only material that can stretch and conform to your foot's shape over the bunion. Any stiff or non-stretchy fabric or plastic there will create prohibitive rigidity. There have been some fantastic additions to the market with flexible uppers with minimal overlay.
Altra Instinct: minimal overlay; the strip near the bunion doesn't cross over the foot so doesn't cause narrowing.
Karhu still makes some of the best shoes if you want no overlays: this is the  Flow trainer

The Hoka One's debatable for many reasons but it does limit overlay in the bunion
Mizuno Evo Cursoris: wide open!

Even the Mizuno Wave Rider keeps the widest area of the toe box free from overlay
Saucony's type A isn't overlaid; it's printed.
The Saucony spectrum, if you don't want a racing flat
The Sketchers GOrun doesn't have overlay, but the stitching might pose a problem

Obviously there are plenty of other shoes out there to choose from and I'm not endorsing any of these shoes: just using them for demonstration.
3. Go for men's styles if you're a lady. I've been wearing a men's 8.5 for years now and it's the only way I can find a shoe wide enough. Just lace up all the way to make the ankles snug enough.
4. Try a larger size. Maybe you need to go up a half-size. As long as you are not over a thumb-nail length from the front of the shoe, you should be ok and it's worth a try for a wider fit. You can also wear a larger size, and lace it carefully for a better fit: leave the laces loose at the toe, so the shoe can conform to your foot, and tighten as you go up.
Tight to loose

5. Look for depth. Even shoes with wide toe boxes can be restrictive if they are not deep enough. After the 2012 Olympics, everyone wanted a pair of Nike Flyknits on their feet. Not me: look at how shallow that forefoot is! Deep shoes give you more wiggle room and more flexibility. Plus, although we tend to think of feet with bunions as just being wider, the bunion also extends down lower than the rest of your foot, so you need a deeper shoe (If you have bunions, look at the profile of your foot and notice how the first MTP joint extends lower than any other part of your foot).
Look how little depth at the toe! 

6. Buy the right kind of cushioning to protect your bunions. If you have bunions, chances are good that they either hit the ground first as you strike (mid or forefoot strike) or as you transition to toe-off (heel strike). Basically, you are running with the whole weight of your body on one joint! Ease the pressure with a well-cushioned shoe. In my experience, foam seems to be best for this, since your swollen joint can sink down into it: something it can't do in, say, a grid. A word of caution here regarding minimalist shoes: if you want to go zero drop, it's probably best to still buy a shoe with enough cushion. Otherwise, you are slamming an inflamed, painful joint into the ground over and over again with every run.
7. Consider a shoe that promotes a mid-foot strike. In my opinion, going from heel-to-toe is tougher on the bunion than going from mid-foot-to-toe. If you land on your mid-foot, yeah, your bunion probably still strikes first, but then the rest of your forefoot makes contact with the ground, providing a stable base to absorb impact and sharing the work of push-off. When you heel strike you transition from heel to forefoot (your larger bunion striking first, of course) then immediately toe off, putting the full force of that action on your bunion alone. Just a thought. Don't change your form lightly though!
8. Pick the right sock. Everyone's got their favorite sock, and my particular favorite is a lightly padded cotton sock. I don't want any thick terry cloth socks to add bulk to the bunion area!
9. Avoid shoes with pointed toes. The shape not only promotes bunion formation/continuation, it places undue stress on the bunion as you strike and toe-off. Plus, the pointier the toe, the larger a size you'll have to buy to accomodate your width, and going too large can create other problems like black toenails and blisters.
Altras with flat, broad toes.
In case you are wondering, I am currently wearing Saucony Kinvaras and Mizuno Mushas. Both fit my bunions well, although the Kinvaras always split over the area after about 500 miles. What shoe do you wear?


  1. I have scary-big bunions and run in Kinvaras too. I 'd like to try on some others but there's not a decent running shoe store within 20 miles of my house. I know I'll probably need surgery some day but they don't bother me as long as I wear the right heels, no ballet flats, etc. It's nice to hear from someone else with the same problem! This is a great guide.

  2. Newton Shoes have a wide toe. I have been running with them for a couple of years and I love them. They let your toes expand when they should. I use the Distance model.

  3. I had both bunions removed when I was about 29 (ouchie); they had gotten so painful and I couldn't run without pain anymore. My PT a couple years ago thought some of my foot issues I had were a result of that bunion surgery 20 years ago. Weird.

    I still have a very wide foot so have to go with a large toe box, too. I like the Kinvaras and the Brooks PureFlows...but lately, I love the NB WT1010. Super wide toe box.

  4. This is a really well-thought out post! Lots of good info. I suffer from lots of foot problems - including bunions. So far, GoRuns have worked well for me because I can get them in extra wide. I haven't tried the newer versions since Skechers does not provide a wide option in those. I have the Kinvaras and like them as well - although they do not work as well as the GoRuns for my feet. Its always nice to hear that I'm not the only runner with these problems!

  5. Great research. I have the same problem and after experiencing the pain of Adidas (post-changes in their Adizero Mana toebox), the splits in the mesh on ladies Saucony Mirage and Fastwitch, I finally tried the men's shoes in 8.5. After 7 successful races at all distances in the Men's Kinvaras, I got a pair of my favourite Fastwitch (also men's, but size 9 was recommended) and a pair of Saucony Cortana for a neutral-cushion distance shoe. The problem I'm now having with the Fastwitch and Cortana is a different shape of the heel cup than the Kinvara and they seem to be aggravating an old tibial nerve injury under my left ankle. Sigh. What fussy feet. May just have to stick to the Kinvara for all training and racing, although I've also heard the brand-new Adidas Boost is really good for bunions.

    1. Susan, how did you like the Fastwitch? I was thinking about buying a pair. Other than the ankle aggravation, would they compare to the Kinvara?

  6. Thank you so much for all this great information. It def. has helped me! Jessica

  7. This information is great! I have bunions on both feet... But in general, have very narrow feet. I need a wide toe box but then not wide at the rest of the foot. Any recommendations on shoes?

  8. I was just diagnosed with bunions and am on my way to get new running shoes today -- will definitely look into these recommendations!

    I know it's off-topic, but was wondering if you had any suggestions for bunion-friendly brands of shoes appropriate for the workplace? I'm switching from student -> professional and afraid that flip flops won't fly in the office!

    1. There are a couple of great brands that are good for the workplace, check out Naot, Ahnu, and Merrell. A gret resource on bunion friendly footwear is the barking dogs blog

    2. I have a couple pair of Clarks and Indigo by Clarks dress shoes that fit well. I can't even get my big bunion in most Danskos. There is one pair of Clarks boots that hurt--but otherwise they're the only dress shoe that doesn't leave me with pain that wakes me up during the night.

    3. Clarks, Indigo by Clarks and White Mountain have a few models of dress shoes that work for my bunion. They're the only ones that don't leave me jolting awake from pain during the night after I've worn them. Avoid Danskos.

    4. Miz Mooz makes really cute shoes with wide toe boxes to fit all bunion sizes! (And mine are pretty bad, but these cute shoes camouflage them.)

  9. I wear Pearl Izumies SyncroFuel for women and I love them. I am debating on trying a different pair because I know these work but I want to try something different because there are so many new models coming out. It just seems like other shoes hurt my feel when I run long distances

  10. I am just now trying Brooks Addictions... Have tried a variety of shoes and nothing seems to work well. Hoping these will be better. Encouraged to see that they are other runners with bunions finding shoes that work. I have had shoe issues for as long as I can remember

  11. I do so appreciate your valuable information! The only time I feel uncomfortable from my bunion's pressure on my second toe is when I exercise (the bunion itself does not hurt). I removed the insoles of my current sneakers (Asics gel) to accommodate a small gel toe separator. The pain is gone but I feel a lack of support. I think the Atra that I am purchasing will accommodate the toe separator without removing the insole. The ShoeFitr tool is great! I now have hope that I will not need the very invasive bunion surgery....

  12. Very interesting. I don't run, but have foot problems and was told to try Dansko. Now I have a tailor bunion on my left foot and am searching for a good pair of comfortable shoes. The information and comments have given me lots to think about.

  13. Great article, thank you! I've been running in Salomon's for the past near decade - they have a nice roomy toe box. I was running in the xt wings but now I'm trying the lighter x-scream. Bunions are definitely a problem. Anytime I run 10+ miles, I can feel them aching afterwards. Finding a shoe that could eliminate that would be wonderful. Any thoughts on zero drop vs a traditional running shoe?

  14. I have been suffering from bunions for a while. I have heard that running shoes can make a difference. I do a lot of downhill running so that I can run faster, and I always get my toes at the end of the shoe. Thanks for the article.

  15. More useful information about the shoes that I had never known. Thank for admin :)

  16. For me vibram five fingers are the best.

  17. I've been running in the Kinavaras and have not had problems with my bunion (only right side & it is small). I'm wanting to try another pair of shoes. I recently purchased Pearl Izumi M3s, but after 3 decent runs, I noticed that they were too tight in the toebox. I'm thinking to try now the Ultra 1.5 or a HOka One One. I love my Kinavaras, but just am wanting to see what else is out there in a more 'rocker' style shoe with a wide toe box.