Expert reviewer, Mr Jonathan Larholt, Podiatric Surgeon
Next review due October 2023

A bunion is a bony lump on the side of your foot. It’s caused when your big toe leans in towards your other toes. A bunion can rub against your shoes and become sore, especially when you’re walking.

Image showing a bunion in the right foot

What is a bunion?

A bunion (also called a hallux valgus) affects the front of your foot. You may first notice that you have a bunion when your big toe starts to bend towards your second toe. The bone at its base then gets pushed out to the side and sticks out. This causes the bunion, which can feel painful and may change the way you walk.

Bunions are the most common problem affecting the front of the foot in adults. You’re more likely to develop a bunion as you get older, and they’re much more common in women than in men.

Symptoms of bunions

Some people don’t get any symptoms from bunions. But if you do, you may notice:

  • pain in the joints of your toes, especially when you’re walking
  • a red or swollen big toe
  • pain in your foot – for example, under the ball of your foot

Your bunion may get bigger and cause more pain over time. If you get pain under the ball of your foot, this may mean you find it harder to walk. A bunion may affect your balance too, which means you may be more likely to fall over. You may also find it hard to find comfortable shoes.

Sometimes, the skin over your bunion can get red, blistered or infected because it’s been rubbing against your shoe. A fluid-filled space called a bursa may form under your skin. This can feel painful if it swells up (called bursitis).

If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP or make an appointment to see a podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot conditions). These symptoms can be caused by problems other than bunions so it’s important to get them checked out. Your GP may be able to refer you to a podiatrist or you can see one privately. For more information, see our FAQ: What is a podiatrist and how do I find one? below.

Diagnosis of bunions

Your podiatrist will diagnose your bunion by asking about your symptoms. They’ll also examine your feet and may ask you to walk around so they can see how the bunion affects the way you walk.
You may have blood tests to rule out other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

If you need to have bunion surgery, you may have more tests. For example:

Self-help for bunions

If you have a bunion, one of the most important things you can do is to wear the right footwear. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low heel, wide front and a thick, soft sole.

  • Try to resist any temptation to wear high heels – these can make your bunion worse. High heels push your foot into the front of your shoe.
  • Wear shoes with a wide front – if your shoes are too narrow in the front this will squeeze your toes together.
  • Choose shoes with a heel less than four centimetres high and wide enough at the front not to cramp your toes.

Putting a bunion pad over the bony lump may protect your feet from the pressure of your shoes. You can usually buy these pads from a pharmacy or get them from your podiatrist. Your podiatrist may also recommend a shoe insert, which can be moulded specifically to your foot.

If your bunion is painful and swollen, you could try putting ice on it for no longer than 10 minutes at a time – a bag of frozen peas works fine. Take care not to put any ice directly onto your skin because ice can damage skin – wrap the ice in a towel first. And if you have diabetes or poor blood flow to your feet, speak to your GP or podiatrist first.

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Treatment of bunions

There are lots of ways to ease the symptoms of bunions – wearing suitable shoes, using shoe inserts (orthoses or orthotics), padding and taking painkillers. But these won’t stop your bunion from getting worse over time.

If your bunion is causing very bad pain, you may need to have an operation to correct it.


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

If your bunion is caused by arthritis, your GP may prescribe medicines to treat this. 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 your bunion is red and swollen (inflamed).


If you’ve tried all of the non-surgical treatments but they haven’t helped, you may want to think about having bunion surgery. Your GP may refer you to see an orthopaedic (musculoskeletal) or a podiatric surgeon to see if this is an option for you. But your GP can only refer you for surgery under the NHS if:

  • your bunion is really painful and is getting worse
  • your second toe is also affected by the bunion
  • you’re struggling to find any shoes that fit
  • the bunion is badly affecting your day-to-day life

If you want to have surgery because of how your bunion looks, you’ll need to have this done privately. Surgery isn’t recommended just to make your foot look better because it can cause complications.

Bunion surgery is called a bunionectomy. There are lots of different types of bunion surgery. Simple surgery will reduce the lump on your foot, while more complicated surgery may also make your big toe as straight as possible. The best type of surgery for you will depend on how bad your bunion is, your lifestyle and whether or not you have arthritis.

An operation won’t return your foot to normal but it may help to ease your symptoms and improve the shape of your foot. You may need to wear shoe inserts after your operation to reduce your chances of getting a bunion again.

Causes of bunions

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes bunions, but some things can make you more likely to have one.

  • Being ‘flat-footed’ or your foot rolling inwards when you walk can cause a bunion to form.
  • Bunions can run in families. But just because your parents or grandparents have bunions doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get them too.
  • You may be more likely to get a bunion if you have a long-term condition that affects your joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
  • Anything that affects how you walk, such as a foot injury, stroke or multiple sclerosis, can make you more likely to have a bunion.
  • Being female – bunions are more common in women.

Prevention of bunions

You can lower your chances of getting a bunion by wearing the right type of shoes and boots. Ask your podiatrist for advice about footwear. They’ll probably recommend that your shoes and boots:

  • are wide enough, so there isn’t any pressure on the joints at the sides of your feet and you can wiggle your toes comfortably
  • have a heel lower than four centimetres so your feet aren’t pushed forwards
  • have adjustable fastenings such as laces, buckles or straps that hold your feet comfortably inside your shoe or boot

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

Frequently asked questions

  • Some people who have a bunion will get osteoarthritis in their big toe. But this doesn’t mean you definitely will.

    Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects your joints and makes them stiff and sore. It’s often caused by ‘wear and tear’ – the cartilage on the end of your bones gets rougher and thinner. If you have osteoarthritis, it’s most likely to affect your knees, hips and hands. But your feet can be affected too.

    Your big 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. If you already have osteoarthritis in your big toe, you may be more likely to get a bunion. This is because the damaged cartilage can make your big toe lean towards your other toes.

    You’re also more likely to get osteoarthritis if you:

    • are over 45
    • are overweight
    • have a family history of osteoarthritis
    • have injured a joint in a past

  • A podiatrist is a healthcare professional who treats conditions that affect your feet, ankles and legs. They’re sometimes called a chiropodist– podiatrist and chiropodist mean the same thing, but the term ‘chiropodist’ is less frequently used nowadays.

    A podiatrist can help to diagnose and treat:

    • long-term health conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes
    • sports injuries
    • conditions such as ingrown toenails, corns and calluses
    • infections such as athlete’s foot and verrucas

    They can also give you advice on how to look after your feet, as well as tips on footwear and good posture.

    You can get in touch with a podiatrist in a number of ways. Your GP may be able to recommend someone or you can contact the College of Podiatry, which represents practising podiatrists and podiatric surgeons. It’s important to find a podiatrist who’s a member of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This will ensure you see a registered professional.

  • Everyone recovers differently from bunion surgery – and this can depend on which operation you’ve had. Speak to your surgeon to find out how long it will be before you’re able to walk around.

    With some operations, you can walk on your operated foot straightaway. But you’ll still need to rest and put your foot up as much as possible for the first 10 to 14 days. With other operations, you’ll need to keep your weight off your foot for around six weeks, but you can use crutches to get around. You may have to wear a removable boot or walking cast after bunion surgery. It can take up to a year to recover fully, but this varies from person to person.

    You probably won’t be able to drive after bunion surgery for six to eight weeks. When you can return to work depends on your job and the type of surgery you’ve had. If you have a sedentary job, you may need to take up to six weeks off work. If your job is very physical, you may need up to three months off. Ask your surgeon for advice.

  • You can have a bunion on your little toe, but this is much less common than a bunion on your big toe. A bunion on your little toe is called a bunionette or a tailor’s bunion. It can be treated in the same way as a bunion on your big toe.

    • Try taking over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
    • Wear wider or softer shoes.
    • Use bunion pads to cushion the bunion.

    If your symptoms don’t get any better, make an appointment to see your GP or a podiatrist. You may need to have surgery.

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Related information

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    • Commissioning guide: painful deformed great toe in adults. Introduction. Royal College of Surgeons of England., published 2017
    • Hallux valgus. Patient., last reviewed November 2016
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    • Osteoarthritis. The College of Podiatry., accessed February 2020
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    • Podiatry – what’s it all about? The College of Podiatry., accessed February 2020
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    • Personal communication, Mr Jonathan Larholt, Podiatric Surgeon, August 2020

  • Reviewed by Michelle Harrison, Lead Editor, Bupa UK Health Content Team, October 2020
    Expert reviewer, Mr Jonathan Larholt, Podiatric Surgeon
    Next review due October 2023