A bunion is a bony lump that develops at the base of your big toe. A bunion can be painful and affect how you walk. If your bunion is very painful and other treatments don't work, you may need surgery.
A bunion is a bony lump on the side of your foot, which develops when your big toe starts to angle towards your second toe. The bunion will eventually cause you discomfort and pain. The skin over the lump can become red, blistered or infected. A fluid-filled space called a bursa may also develop under your skin in this area and this can be painful if it becomes inflamed. This is called bursitis. The deformity of your big toe combined with a bunion is sometimes referred to as hallux valgus by your GP.
If you have a bunion, you may have:
These symptoms may be caused by conditions other than bunions, but if you have any of these symptoms, see your GP.
You can get a bunion because of a problem with your big toe known as hallux valgus. ‘Hallux’ means the big toe and ‘valgus’ means that it’s pointing outwards towards your other toes.
In hallux valgus, the bone in your foot at the base of your big toe, called the first metatarsal, moves out at the side of your foot. Your big toe then angles towards your other toes.
There are many factors that can contribute to bunions forming. Some of these include the following.
Your GP will be able to diagnose a bunion by asking about your symptoms and examining your feet. You may also have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, although this is rare. Your GP may refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet).
Wearing the right shoes, using shoe inserts (orthoses) and padding, and taking painkillers can all help to ease your symptoms of a bunion. However, these treatments can’t cure a bunion or stop it getting worse. If you have severe pain or discomfort from a bunion, you may be advised to have an operation to correct it.
One of the most important things you can do is to wear the right footwear. You should try to wear flat, wide-fitting shoes with laces or an adjustable strap that fits you properly. You may also want to place a bunion pad over your bunion to give it some protection from the pressure of your shoes. You can usually buy these pads from a pharmacy, or get them from your podiatrist or chiropodist. He or she may also recommend a shoe insert, which can be moulded specifically to your foot. Shoe inserts aim to reduce the pain of your bunion by improving how you walk.
You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help relieve the pain and inflammation of your bunion. Always follow the instructions in the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. Medicines give temporary relief but they won’t be able to cure your bunion or prevent it from getting worse.
If you have a bunion as a result of underlying arthritis, your GP may prescribe specific medicines to treat this.
If other treatments don’t help and your bunion is very painful, you may be referred to an orthopaedic or a podiatric surgeon for assessment. There are over 130 different operations that can be carried out to treat bunions. The simplest operations are called bunionectomies.
The majority of the operations aim to correct the alignment of your big toe. This will narrow your foot and straighten out your big toe joint as much as possible. An operation won’t return your foot back to normal, but most people find that surgery reduces their symptoms and improves the shape of their foot. The operation your surgeon will advise you to have will depend on how severe your bunion is and whether or not you have arthritis.
For more information on bunion surgery, see Related topics.
You can reduce your risk of getting a bunion by wearing the right type of footwear. In particular, wearing tight, high-heeled shoes may make bunions worse. You can ask your GP or podiatrist for advice about your footwear. He or she will probably advise:
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
Produced by Alice Rossiter, Bupa Health Information Team, May 2013.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
We offer a range of physiotherapy and sports medicine services.