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What is a bunion?

A bunion is an enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the base of the big toe. The big toe may turn toward the second toe. The tissues around the joint may be swollen and tender.

A bony bump at the base of the little toe is called a bunionette or tailor's bunion. The little toe also bends inward, and the joint swells or enlarges.

Symptoms

Your bunion may not cause any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Pain in your big toe.
  • Red or irritated skin over the bunion.
  • Swelling or enlargement of the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the big toe.
  • Displacement of the big toe, so that it points toward the other toes and causes problems in other toes, such as hammer toe.
  • Joint pain or stiffness.

A bunionette can cause similar symptoms at the base of the little toe.

Bunions and their symptoms develop slowly over time.

Causes

You may get bunions if:

  • The way your foot is shaped puts too much pressure on your big toe joint. Because bunions can run in families, some experts believe that the inherited shape of the foot makes some people more likely to get them.
  • Your foot rolls inward too much when you walk. A moderate amount of inward roll, or pronation, is normal. But damage and injury can happen with too much pronation.
  • You have flat feet.
  • You often wear shoes that squeeze the toes together or that shift weight to the toes (such as high-heeled shoes).

All of these may put pressure on the big toe joint. Over time, the constant pressure forces the big toe out of alignment, bending it toward the other toes.

Other things that can lead to a bunion include:

  • Loose ligaments in the foot.
  • Previous injury to the foot.
  • Hammer toes or removal (amputation) of the second toe. When the joint of the second toe rises, as in hammer toe, or the second toe is missing, it's easier for the big toe to drift toward the other toes.
  • Abnormal development of the foot.
  • Arthritis.

Treatment options

Bunions are treated to ease pain and help with walking and other daily activities. If you have a bunion but don't have pain or discomfort, treatment may not be needed. Another goal of treatment is to prevent the bunion from getting worse.

Most bunions can be treated at home. Surgery is an option only if other treatments don't help.

Foot and ankle pain can occur at any age. Our specialists treat a range of conditions, including arthritis, fractures and diabetes-related issues.

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