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You'll have heard the comment 'you have to suffer for your beauty' and with bunions it really can be the truth. A bunion is a painful, bony lump that can develop on the side of your foot and affect how you walk. And one thing that can increase your risk is wearing shoes that put a strain on the bones and muscles in your foot. Like those narrow, high-heeled beauties. It's thought up to half of adults in the UK may have bunions, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are much more common in women than men.

A bunion can develop if your big toe starts to angle towards your second toe. Some people don’t ever get any symptoms from them, but they can lead to discomfort and pain. Sometimes the skin over the lump can become red, blistered or infected. A fluid-filled space called a bursa may also develop under your skin which can be painful if it swells up (bursitis).

Doctors may use the medical term hallux valgus to describe the deformity of your big toe combined with a bunion.

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Image showing a bunion in the right foot


  • Symptoms Symptoms of bunions

    If you have a bunion, you may have:

    • pain in your big toe joint
    • a swollen big toe

    This can make it difficult to walk, and you might find your shoes don’t fit properly.

    These symptoms may be caused by problems other than bunions, so if you have any of them, contact your GP. Alternatively make an appointment to see a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet). Your GP may be able to refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist, or you can see one privately.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of bunions

    Your podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet) will diagnose your bunion by asking about your symptoms. They will also examine your feet and may ask you to walk around so they can see how the bunion affects this.

    You may have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

    If you need to have surgery, you will have further tests such as:

    • an X-ray – the X-ray will be taken while you’re putting weight on your toe
    • ultrasound scan
    • MRI scan

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  • Treatment Treatment of bunions

    Wearing appropriate shoes, using shoe inserts (orthoses or orthotics) and padding, and taking painkillers may help to ease the symptoms of a bunion. But they won’t stop your bunion from getting worse. If you have severe pain from a bunion, you might need to have an operation to correct it.


    One of the most important things you can do is to wear the right footwear. Try to resist any temptation to wear high heels if you have a bunion because they can make it worse. High heels push your foot forwards in your shoe and this squeezes your toes together. Look for wider shoes with a lower heel that fit you properly.

    It might help to put 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. They may also recommend a shoe insert, which can be moulded specifically to your foot.

    If your bunion is painful and swollen, you might find it helps to put ice on it – a bag of frozen peas works fine. Take care not to put ice directly to your skin as it can harm it – wrap whatever you use in a towel.


    You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help relieve pain and swelling from a bunion. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and, if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

    If you have a bunion caused by arthritis, your GP may prescribe medicines to treat this. For example, your GP may recommend you have a steroid injection into your toe joint. This may also be an option if you don’t have arthritis but have severe pain from a bunion.


    Your chiropodist or podiatrist may give you some exercises to do. Although these will help to strengthen your muscles and tendons around your big toe, they won’t cure your bunion.


    If you’ve tried treatments for at least three months but they haven’t helped and your bunion is painful, you may want to think about surgery. Your GP may refer you to see an orthopaedic or a podiatric surgeon to see if this is an option for you. However, your GP can only refer you for surgery under the NHS if your bunion is really painful. If you want to have surgery for cosmetic reasons, you’ll have to have a private operation and pay for it yourself.

    There are over 130 different operations to treat bunions. Most bunion 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 it reduces their symptoms and improves the shape of their foot.

    The type of operation you have will depend on how severe your bunion is and whether or not you have arthritis.

    Read more about bunion surgery, including information on how long it takes to recover and when you can drive again.

  • Bunion treatment on demand

    You can access a range of our health and wellbeing services on a pay-as-you-go basis, including bunion treatment.

  • Causes Causes of bunions

    A problem with your big toe called hallux valgus can cause bunions. ‘Hallux’ means your big toe and ‘valgus’ means that it’s pointing outwards towards your other toes. If you have hallux valgus, the bone in your foot at the base of your big toe moves out to the side. Your big toe then angles towards your other toes.

    Other things can increase your risk of developing a bunion too, including the following.

    • The way you walk may cause bunions, for example if your foot rolls inwards. Over time, this can lead to a bunion forming.
    • Bunions can run in families but just because your parents or grandparents have bunions doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily develop them too.
    • The type of shoes you wear may affect whether or not you get a bunion. If you wear narrow or high-heeled shoes, this can put extra strain on the bones and muscles in your foot. This, in turn, can push your toes together and force your big toe to point towards your other toes. Wearing poorly fitting shoes doesn’t cause bunions on its own but it can make them worse.
    • You’re much more likely to get bunions if you’re a woman. This may be from wearing tighter footwear such as high heels, or because of the ligaments in your feet (the structures that connect bones together).
    • Bunions are sometimes associated with conditions that affect your joints, such as osteoarthritis.
    • Other health conditions that are associated with bunions include gout, rheumatoid arthritis or a foot injury.
  • Prevention Prevention of bunions

    You can reduce your risk of getting a bunion by wearing the right type of shoes and boots. Ask your chiropodist or podiatrist for advice about footwear. They will probably advise you choose shoes:

    • that are wide enough so there isn’t any pressure on the joints at the sides of your feet and so you can wiggle your toes comfortably
    • with a low heel
    • with adjustable fastenings, such as laces, buckles or straps, that hold your feet comfortably inside your shoe

    Shoes that support the arch of your foot, such as good quality trainers, are usually more comfortable.

    They may also suggest you use shoe inserts (orthotics or orthoses) to correct your walking if you have problems.

  • FAQs FAQs

    If I have a bunion, does it mean I’ll get osteoarthritis in my big toe?


    No, not everyone with a bunion develops osteoarthritis. However, any movement of your big toe inwards may mean you’re more at risk of developing the condition.


    If you have a bunion, it doesn’t mean that you will definitely get osteoarthritis in your big toe, although this can develop in some people. It can also happen the other way around, in that if you have osteoarthritis in your toe, you’re more likely to get a bunion. Your toe joint is more prone to osteoarthritis than any other joint in your foot. This is because of the repeated pressure you put on it when you walk.

    Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects your joints and makes them stiff and painful. It causes the cartilage on the end of your bones to get rougher and thinner. The bone beneath reacts by thickening and growing outwards, and can create bony outgrowths called osteophytes. These make your joint look misshapen and knobbly.

    The joints that tend to be most affected by osteoarthritis are your knees, hips and hands. As well as bunions there are other things can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, such as:

    • your age – osteoarthritis is more common in people over 45
    • your weight – being overweight increases your risk of osteoarthritis, and makes the condition worse once you have it
    • having parents who have osteoarthritis
    • injuring your joint

    What is a podiatrist and how can I find one?


    A podiatrist is a health professional who treats conditions that affect your feet. Your GP may be able to refer you to a podiatrist. Alternatively, you can find one by contacting professional bodies, such as the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.


    A podiatrist treats problems with feet and is trained to treat people with health conditions like arthritis and diabetes, as well as sports injuries. Podiatrists can also diagnose conditions and give you advice on how to take care of your feet. They are sometimes called chiropodists – podiatrists and chiropodists are the same. Although they aren’t doctors, they do have specialist training and often work closely with doctors.

    Podiatrists can recommend exercises, devices and shoe alterations that may help relieve your symptoms. If you decide to have an operation to treat your condition, you’ll be referred to a podiatric surgeon. A podiatric surgeon is a podiatrist who is specially trained to carry out surgical procedures, including treating bunions. Orthopaedic surgeons also provide this type of treatment.

    There are a number of ways you can get in touch with a podiatrist. Your GP may be able to recommend someone or you can contact the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists who represent practising podiatrists. It’s important to find a podiatrist or chiropodist who is a member of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This will ensure that you see a registered professional.

    How long will it take until I can walk after bunion surgery?


    People usually recover from bunion surgery within about six to eight weeks but it will depend on the type of operation you have.


    The time it takes to recover from bunion surgery will depend on the type of operation you have had. You may have to wear a plaster cast or protective shoe after some types of operation. Some people can walk on their affected foot immediately; others need to keep weight off it for the first few days. You can use crutches during this time.

    It can take up to three to six months until you can walk normally again, but remember this will vary. One person may feel no pain and recover very quickly, whereas another may be in discomfort and take a long time to heal. It depends on your individual circumstances.

    When you can return to work will depend on the type of operation you have had. Another important thing to think about is how much time you spend on your feet doing your job. Most people take about six weeks off work, but your surgeon can give you advice about this.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Hallux valgus (bunions). BMJ Best Practice., published 29 April 2014
    • Bunions. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published September 2012
    • Hallux valgus. PatientPlus., reviewed 20 November 2013
    • Commissioning guide: painful deformed great toe in adults. Royal College of Surgeons of England., published November 2013
    • Hallux valgus (bunion). British Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Bursitis. BMJ Best Practice., published 24 April 2014
    • Bunion. Medscape., published 25 March 2014
    • Understand the difference between a chiropodist and a podiatrist. The College of Podiatry., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Find a podiatrist. The College of Podiatry., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Hallux valgus (bunions). BMJ Best Practice., published 29 April 2014
    • Bunions. The American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics and Medicine., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Bunion surgery. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons., published September 2012
    • The foot and ankle in rheumatology. Arthritis Research UK., published 2011
    • Bunion. The Merck Manuals., published October 2014
    • Osteoarthritis. The College of Podiatry., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Osteoarthritis. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published April 2013
    • Osteoarthritis. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2014.
    • Osteoarthritis. PatientPlus., reviewed 12 March 2014
    • A guide to the benefits of podiatry to patient care. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists., published 2010
    • Bunions. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society., accessed 24 February 2015
    • Frequently asked questions about bunion surgery. American College of Ankle and Foot Surgeons., published 31 October 2014
    • Bunion correction. The College of Podiatry., published 31 October 2014
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