What Are Bunions?

Bunions are an incredibly common painful foot problem. They are bony lesions are generally found on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe. To a lesser extent the condition can affect the joint of the small toe, in which case it is called a bunionette or tailor’s bunion.

These bony growths are unsightly and can make wearing shoes difficult due to the increased width of the affected foot. Bunions can become swollen, highly inflamed, and can get infected especially when the skin is broken from friction against the side of the shoe. The condition is most often seen in women which is not due to any difference in anatomy between the sexes, but is due to the main cause being tight and restrictive shoes. Any shoes with a narrow toe box, inflexible materials used in the construction of the uppers, and a high heel can contribute to the formation of bunions. The most common cause of bunions is pressure exerted on the joint at the base of the big or little toe.


Bunions are a foot problem that will steadily deteriorate if left untreated or if the causative factors are not removed. Most of the time, simple treatments for bunions can see their appearance reduce although in severe cases it is necessary to undergo
bunion surgery; termed a bunionectomy.

Bunion formation should be taken seriously, and early treatment should be sought to correct the condition. Early treatment is highly effective and relatively cheap, with the cost of treatment and the time taken for recovery increasing as the condition is allowed to deteriorate.

The most common symptoms of bunions – apart from the toe deformity – are pain at the base of the big toe, inflammation on the inside of the foot at the joint, and redness around the big toe on the inner side of the foot. The pain will worsen when pressure is placed on the affected toe such as when wearing shoes.The pain tends to worsen after standing for a long time, or after exercise. Bunions often occur on both feet at the same time, especially when footwear choice is the reason for bunions forming.

There are many suspected causes of bunions and one of them is heredity. Bone defects passed down through the generations can leave patients with a predisposition to develop the condition. It isn’t the bunion itself that is inherited, but rather a congenital bone defect which causes excess pressure on be exerted on the first joint of the big toe.

Bunions and Footwear Choice

In the vast majority of cases, big toe bunions are formed due to wearing improper footwear such as tight shoes. This causes excessive rubbing and pressure against the first (and fifth in the case of tailors bunions) metatarophalangeal joint. Over time the feet will take on the form of the narrow shoes and will start to bend inwards, with the joint of the big toe repositioned. The body responds by laying down new bone at the joint, or on the metatarsal head itself, causing the outward bony protrusion. As the growth gets bigger, rubbing and pressure is increased exacerbating the condition.

Big toe bunions are not only irritating unsightly growths on the feet, but they can be the source of a significant amount of pain. Left untreated they can get to the point where walking becomes unbearably painful. If you have a disposition to bunions, then orthotic insoles or orthotic shoes are often the best defense. This will correct toe alignment and pressure distribution. Shoes with soft and yielding uppers can help, with a wide toe box helping to allow the toes to align naturally and giving them some room to move. In many cases simply changing footwear can encourage the bones to return to their normal position. Only in the most severe cases is a bunionectomy required; toe surgery where the excess bone is removed by arthroplasty or arthrodesis.

The most common treatment for bunions in addition to a change of footwear, are bunion splints and braces which can be worn at night to encourage the bones back into their normal position. Toe straighteners can be worn in shoes, and bunion pads slipped into footwear will ease rubbing and irritation and can help to reduce pain and swelling.
Read about some of the best choices of bunion shoes here