What Is a Bunion?

A bunion is a common foot deformity that can affect the great toe (or “big toe”). In this condition, the alignment of toe bones shift over time, with the great tip of the toe leaning further and further toward the second toe. This pushes the joint at the base of the toe in the opposite direction, forming a bony deformity—in other words, a “bump.”

Bunions may not cause any discomfort at first. However, as the bunion grows larger and the toe shifts further out of alignment, it may become increasingly painful. Symptoms can include inflammation, redness, odd sensations such as burning or numbness, and difficulty walking or wearing shoes.

What Causes Bunions?

Doctors still disagree to some extent about the exact cause of bunions. However, most agree that inherited foot structures play a significant role. Certain foot shapes and mechanics place more stress on the front of the foot than others, and over time this can destabilize the big toe joint. As a result, family history is a significant risk factor for bunions.A foot with a bunion sticking off to the side

Wearing improper footwear, particularly high heels or any shoes that crowd the toes into a tight space, can accelerate the progression of bunions, or perhaps even trigger them if your feet are already susceptible. Women are nine or ten times more likely to develop bunions than men.

Do I Need to See a Foot Specialist?

We strongly encourage you to see a foot specialist regarding your bunion, even if it is not yet causing you pain or interfering with your daily activities. Bunions do not get better with time; they will only get worse. A specialist can evaluate your current condition and risk factors, and help you slow the progression and delay the need for more aggressive treatment as long as possible.

Can Bunions Be Treated Conservatively?

Non-surgical treatments cannot fix a bunion. The bump will continue to exist and slowly worsen unless it is corrected by reconstructive surgery. However, in the early stages of the condition, conservative treatments may be appropriate and sufficient to prevent or reduce pain and allow you to maintain full function and activity. This can include:

  • Wearing supportive shoes with a wide-toe box
  • Avoiding high heels and other shoes that put extra pressure on the toes
  • Custom orthotics, prescribed by our team, that redistribute forces away from the at-risk joint
  • Padding to protect the bunion from painful friction and the formation of corns and calluses
  • Pain relief strategies, including medications, injections, icing, or advanced therapies

When Is It Time for Bunion Surgery?

If your bunion is severe and causing daily pain or difficulty, and non-surgical treatments aren’t enough to help you live your preferred lifestyle, we generally recommend you consider surgical correction.

Our board-certified team of podiatric surgeons have extensive experience in bunion reconstruction, including multiple different techniques and procedures. We will consider the nature of your condition, age, activity level, personal goals, and other factors when determining the surgical approach. Bunion surgery is highly effective, with the vast majority of patients satisfied with their results. Many have struggled for years with pain and activity restriction; surgery allows them to finally get their lives back.

To schedule an appointment with one of the Northwest Extremity Specialists, please call your local office directly or complete an appointment request form online.