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What are Bunions?

Bunions [BUN-yuns] are hard bumps that form on the foot, most of the time on the joint near the base of the big toe, But also on the base of the little toe. Bunions happen when the big or little toe is pushed into the other toes, which forces the joint at the base of the toe to pop out to the side and get bigger.

If the toes keep getting pushed together, the joint at the base of the toe can start to stick out even more, forming the bunion. Sometimes, the bunion can rub against the inside of your shoes, causing the skin on the outside of the bunion to get sore and red.

Symptoms

The most prominent symptom of a bunion is a hard, bony bump on the outside of the foot, especially near the base of the big toe and little toe.  If you have a bunion, you might be able to see it when you look at your feet. Other bunion symptoms include:

  • Swelling at the big toe joint
  • Redness at the big toe joint
  • Soreness around the big toe joint
  • Callouses or corns, often where the toes overlap
  • Pain (can be constant or come and go)
  • Limited movement (usually if arthritis has caused the bunion) 

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you have a lot of pain, or if you are having a hard time moving the joint where you think you have a bunion. Sometimes, bunions can get better on their own, but a doctor can help them heal faster and rule out other conditions.

Causes

There are a few causes for bunions, such as:

  • Tight shoes. The most common cause of bunions is shoes that are too tight. Wearing these shoes forces your toes to press into one another, and limits the room for toe movement. Over time, this causes the joints at either the big or little toe, or sometimes both, to press out and form bunions.
  • High-heeled shoes.  Wearing high-heeled shoes can cause bunions because this kind of shoe puts more stress on your toes.
  • Other causes.  In some cases, bunions can also be caused by arthritis in the joint, foot stress, or an inherited structural problem in your foot. 

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to help diagnose a bunion. During this exam, your doctor may press on your foot and/or toes, or ask you to move your foot and toes to check your range of movement.

If your doctor thinks that you do have a bunion, they may order an x-ray which will take pictures of the bones in your feet. These pictures can help your doctor figure out the cause of the bunion and how severe it is.

Treatments

Most of the time, bunions do not need any medical treatment. Your doctor can help you with some symptoms, such as pain or decreased movement, or may refer you to see a doctor that specializes in feet, called a podiatrist [po-DIE-uh-trist].

Some treatments that your doctor, or a podiatrist, may recommend include:

  • Getting different shoes that have enough room for the toes
  • Bracing, padding, taping, or splinting the foot to help support it
  • Shoe inserts to help support the foot
  • Medicine to help with soreness and inflammation
  • Ice to help with soreness and inflammation

If your bunion doesn’t go away, is causing you a lot of pain, and is making it hard to move your feet, your doctor might recommend surgery. Surgery for bunions can:

  • Straighten the big toe by removing part of the bone
  • Remove some of the swollen tissue from around the joint
  • Realign the bones through the foot to help realign the big toe
  • Join the bones of the affected joint 

Prevention

Bunions can be prevented by wearing shoes that fit well and that have enough room for the toes. Your doctor may also recommend that you do not wear high heels in order to lower your chance of getting bunions.