- A bunion is a bony lump that forms at your main big toe joint, when the joint is pulled out of line.
- Bunions often don’t cause trouble, but they can become painful and cause your feet to change shape.
- See a doctor if you think you have bunions, as they can give you a diagnosis and refer you for further help if needed.
- Bunions can usually be managed by wearing comfortable shoes and other techniques.
- Surgery can be an option if other management strategies don’t help.
What is a bunion?
Bunions are a common foot condition. It’s also known as hallux valgus. A bunion is a bony lump that develops at the main joint between the big toe and the foot. The bunion forms when the big toe moves towards the other toes, pulling the joint out of line. As bunions develop, your big toe will become more angled.
Some people get a smaller bunion, known as a bunionette, in the joint of the smallest toe.
What are the symptoms of bunions?
Bunions usually develop slowly, and many people have them for years with no problems at all. However, some people find:
- the bunion can push their toes and feet out of shape
- the skin covering the bunion can become red and inflamed or calloused (an area of hard, thick skin)
- the bunion can cause pain while wearing shoes and walking
What causes bunions?
The cause of bunions is not completely understood.
Many people with bunions have a family history of the condition.
Bunions can also be caused by:
If you are prone to bunions, wearing shoes that are too narrow and tight can increase your risk of developing them.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if:
- you think you have bunions
- your bunions are causing you pain
- your bunions are making it difficult to wear shoes or walk
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How are bunions diagnosed?
If you think you have bunions, your doctor will talk to you and do a physical examination to see how severe your bunions are. They might order an x-ray of your foot.
If necessary, they’ll refer you to a podiatrist or other specialist, such as:
- a physiotherapist
- an orthopaedic surgeon
How are bunions treated?
Bunions tend to progress, rather than improve. If you have bunions that are causing you pain, there are ways to manage them.
If you have bunions, your doctor will firstly encourage you to wear appropriate shoes that are:
- wide enough to allow your toes to spread out
Your doctor may also advise you to avoid high-heeled shoes. These shoes move your weight forward. This puts greater pressure on your toes which are squeezed into the end of the shoe. You should especially avoid pointed shoes that squeeze your toes together.
Your doctor can suggest other ways to reduce the pain and pressure of bunions, including:
- using special cushioning bunion pads
- wearing orthotics (shoe inserts) or orthopaedic shoes
- taking anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to relieve the pain and inflammation
- maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on joints in the feet
Your doctor might refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon for bunion surgery. You may need surgery if:
- management techniques aren't working
- your foot is becoming more deformed or painful
Before agreeing to surgery, ask your doctor what is involved. They can outline the benefits and risks to you. It can take a long time to recover from bunion surgery.
How can bunions be prevented?
Because the cause of bunions is not completely understood, they can’t be prevented. But, by managing your bunions, you can prevent them from getting worse.
Always choose comfortable, wide shoes that fit properly and don’t squeeze your toes together.
Complications of bunions
If bunions are unmanaged, they can:
- make walking difficult and change your gait (the way you walk)
- prevent your shoes from fitting properly
If you have bunions, you may be at risk of other conditions such as:
- hammer toes
- plantar keratosis
Resources and support
You can call the Musculoskeletal Australia helpline on 1800 263 265 to speak to a nurse about bunions.
You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: April 2022