Bunions

Photo diagram of toe and ball of foot pain areas

Could I have a bunion?

To start finding out, take a closer look at where you feel pain in your foot.

WHAT AREAS OF MY FOOT HURT?
A bunion affects these regions of your foot:

A Toes

B Ball of Foot

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS?

Drawn image diagram of a bunion on foot located near the side of big toe

While the word “bunion” sounds rather simple, it’s the name of a quite serious and painful condition. You’ll notice a bunion as a bump jutting out on either the base or side of your big toe joint. This happens when your first toe bone pushes inward too much onto your second toe bone, disrupting the alignment of your first metatarsal bone (which is the bone in your foot that’s attached to your first toe bone). When unaligned, your toe bone separates from your metatarsal bone and creates a bump where the bone juts out.

Think you might have a bunion?TAKE THIS SELF-ASSESSMENT
Self- Assessment
Quiz

First, examine your big toe joint. Do you…

  • Have a bump on it?
  • Feel a dull ache with occasional shooting pains (especially after extended periods of activity)?
  • Feel pain when you move it?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you show some key symptoms of having a bunion. TAKE THE NEXT QUICK QUIZ.

Think you might have a bunion?TAKE THIS SELF-ASSESSMENT
Self- Assessment
Quiz

In addition to symptoms related to your big toe joint, do any of these other bunion-related symptoms apply to you?

  • A reddening or inflammation of the bump
  • Blisters and/or callouses in and around your first and second toes
  • Pain when walking or wearing restrictive shoes (such as high heels)
  • Your second toe overlapping your first toe
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Sores between your toes
  • Arthritis in your big toe

If you might have a bunion, confirm your condition with a foot and ankle specialist (podatrist).

Are there any serious concerns with Bunions?

As a progressive deformity, bunions start out small but grow worse over time. Because bunions are painful, you’ll walk differently to compensate. That’s why bunions can also affect the ball of your foot and the area under your big toe. By placing your weight onto these other areas of your foot, you risk additional foot pain, foot health conditions, and even stress fractures as a result of untreated bunions.

Keep reading for recommendations on treatment and relief from the experts at FootSmart and The Podiatry Institute.

How do I treat and prevent Bunions?

Non-surgical treatments won’t correct your bone deformity, but you can alleviate your bunion pain and perhaps put off surgery for a while. The most important non-surgical treatment for a bunion is simple: Wear roomy and comfortable shoes.

Diagram of a slip-on shoe for bunion sufferers
Look for shoes that have:
  1. Stretchable, breathable qualities
    (like a good slip-on shoe)
  2. Good arch support
  3. A wide toe box
Also consider the following non-surgical bunion treatments:
  • Padding and toe spacers. Cushioning (such as silicone pads) help alleviate pressure around your toe joints, reduce friction, and protect the tender area around your bunion.
  • Shields and splints. These treatments help alleviate pressure on your bunion, properly adjust the positioning of your toes, and provide extra room to decrease irritation.
  • Medication. Pain relievers such as naproxen, ibuprofen, or even a cortisone injection may help with bunion pain and swelling.
  • Icing and cold therapy. Ice can help reduce bunion-related swelling and alleviate pain.
  • Modifying your activities. Reduce any heavy exercising, walking, or standing if you normally put pressure on your feet for long periods of time every day.
What if non-surgical treatments do not work?
Photo of feet with large bunion where surgery did not work

Since bunion surgery will have a serious effect on your feet for up to 6-12 months, only consider surgical treatment if:

  • Your bunion pain prevents you from performing your routine daily activities.
  • Non-surgical treatments have failed to alleviate your bunion pain and swelling.
Bunion surgery may involve:
  • A simple bone shaving if the bunion is small, with minimal pain.
  • Cutting the foot bone and then shaving the bump. This kind of bunion surgery is more common, especially for severe bunions that cause you a lot of pain. The surgeon will cut your foot bone, adjust it back to the correct position, and secure it with screws, pins, or wires. Then the surgeon will shave the bump.

Bunion surgery recovery time may take up to 6-12 months, with the most intense recovery time occurring up to 3 months after surgery. You will experience some pain, wear a cast or splint, and undergo physical therapy. Your podiatrist will also likely recommend an ongoing application of the non-surgical therapies listed above to help prevent future bunions.