Thumbnail image of: Bunion: Illustration


What is a bunion?

A bunion is a bony bump on the joint at the base of your big toe. The bony bump makes the joint bigger, and this makes your big toe point at an angle toward your other toes.

What is the cause?

Bunions can result from wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or from wearing high-heeled shoes with narrow, pointed toes. When a shoe rubs against the toe joint, it irritates the area and makes it swollen, red, and painful. The rubbing may also cause a callous on the skin over the bunion. Bunions are more common in people who have other foot problems, such as a low arch or “flat foot.”

Bunions tend to run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • A bony bump at the base of the big toe (the big toe may eventually cross under the next toe)
  • Swelling, redness, and soreness of the big toe joint
  • Thickening of the skin at the base of the big toe

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays of the joint.

How is it treated?

You’ll continue to have a bunion unless you have surgery to remove it. You can usually relieve pressure on your big toe if you:

  • Wear roomy, comfortable shoes.
  • Wear a splint that pushes the big toe back into the right position and holds it in place.
  • Place a pad on the bunion.
  • Wear custom-made arch supports called orthotics.

If the bunion gets worse and causes too much discomfort, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery (called bunionectomy) to:

  • Straighten the toe by taking out part of the bone.
  • Join (fuse) the bones in your toe joint with bone grafts.

Recovery from bunion surgery may take 2 months or more.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Keep your foot up on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, or naproxen to treat pain and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.

Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent bunions?

You can help prevent bunions by wearing comfortable shoes that fit well. Be sure your shoes don’t cramp or irritate your toes. This is especially important if your family has a history of bunions or other foot problems.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-08
Last reviewed: 2014-12-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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