Bunions are a burden for many, as noted in our previous post on Bunion Basics. We also noted specific toe exercises can help correct bunions at their earliest stages.

A study published in Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation compared two of those exercises to determine which may be more effective for the correction of early stage bunions.1 One was the short-foot exercise (SF) and the other was the toes-spread-out exercise (TSO).

Both exercises seek to strengthen foot muscles and help correct a muscle imbalance in the foot. The imbalance is between the abductor hallucis (AbdH), which controls your big toe’s outward movement, and the adductor hallucis (AddH), which controls your big toe’s inner movement. Both exercises are performed while seated, and both were tough enough to cause seven people to drop out during the course of the study.

Short-foot Exercise (SF)

 Short foot exercise

Short foot exercise

This commonly recommended exercise involves placing your foot flat on the floor and then contracting the muscles on the bottom of your foot to raise the arch without curling your toes. Your arch should rise but your toes and the ball of your foot should remain firmly on the floor.

Toes-spread-out Exercise (TSO)

 Toes Spread Out (TSO)

Toes Spread Out (TSO)

This newly introduced exercise involves three distinct toe movements, all of which you perform while keeping you heel and ball of the foot on the ground.

  1. Lift all your toes
  2. Push your little toe down toward the outside of your body
  3. Slowly push your big toe down toward the middle of your body

What the Study Found

After study participants practiced the exercises for 15 minutes per day over a two week period, researchers found TSO won out over SF for bunion correction. TSO was more effective for:

  • Activating the AbdH muscle that controls the big toe’s outer movement
  • Increasing the desired angle of the big toe’s joint
  • Correcting the muscle imbalance

Researchers concluded that TSO was superior to SF for bunion correction and can be recommended as part of a bunion correction plan.


  1. Kima MH, Kwonb OY, KImc SH, Jungd DY. Comparison of muscle activities of abductor hallucis and adductor hallucis between the short foot and toe-spread-out exercises in subjects with mild hallux valgus. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2013;26:163-168.