What is a Bunion?

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Bunions are a strange name for an equally strange deformity of the big toe. Bunions on feet are awkward, painful, and swollen problems that deform the largest toe and put a hamper in your stride.

As common as foot bunions are, you or someone you know has probably dealt with them before. There are treatments for bunions, just as there are ways to prevent them from forming.

what is a bunion
By Lamiot (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licence)

This article will cover all these eventualities, as well as answer the vital questions of how do you get bunions, what causes bunions, and just what the heck a bunion is aside from a weird bump on your foot.

What is a Bunion?

A bunion is a deformity of the big toe, wherein the toe turns inwards, sometimes so severely that it overlaps the toe beside it.

There is also the characteristic bony lump that forms on the inside of the foot. This is the actual bunion and pops out at the base of the big toe, or the joint between your toe and foot.

Depending on how far the bunion has developed, the lump may be large, swollen, and tender, and the angle at which the big toe is resting may be blunt or sharp.

Redness is common after periods of activity or in bunions that have progressed without treatment.

Signs of Bunions Forming

Aside from the typical bony lump forming, as well as your big toe beginning to turn inwards, there are other signs of a bunion in its early stages.

A thick callus will start to form over where the lump will eventually grow. This is the first sign  (aside from pain after lots of activity) that a bunion is in the oven.

What Causes Bunions?

There is a bit of debate around the causes of bunions. A section of professionals believe that there is no real cause behind bunions, and that there is a complex, genetic predisposition to developing them.

Then again, a portion of experts link a variety of factors towards the development of bunions.

This article will remain neutral on this debate and cover both sides. Who knows what doctors will discover in the future!

Improper Footwear

Lots of foot problems are rooted in people wearing improper footwear. Surely, it is no surprise to learn that bunions fit into this category.

No matter how much time you spend on your feet, shoes that don’t fit right or support you will cause problems down the line. This can be improper heel support, not enough weight distribution, or tight toe-boxes that pinch your toes together.

The thing is, shoes that don’t support you correctly can cause your feet to deform in a number of ways – bunions being only one of them.

In particular, heels and any type of shoe that pinch your toes together will deform your toes and the overall structure of your foot. Bunions are one of the deformities caused by small toe-boxes, as the big toe is pushed inwards and eventually deforms to accommodate this position.

This doesn’t happen overnight either. We’ll talk more in-depth about prevention below, but for now, just consider getting a pair of shoes that actually fit!

Genetic Predisposition

Bunions may be something that you can totally blame on your parents. There is, in fact, a genetic predisposition for developing bunions.

If your parents, and their parents, have bunions, then there is a good chance you will grow them too. Knowing this, you can keep an eye on your tootsies and watch for this development.

Oddly enough, bunions are more common in people with European and Caucasian ancestry. No one knows why.


The more time you spend on your feet, the higher your chance of developing problems in your feet that will require treatment.

Athletes or active people can develop bunions purely from how much time they spend upright.


An injury that causes you to walk or hold yourself differently, such as a broken ankle, can change your natural form – even after the trauma has healed.

Over time, your body will adjust to how you learned to redistribute your weight and accommodate that. Unfortunately, this can cause further damage down the line, like a bunion forming.

Should the trauma have required a doctor, they have likely suggested a form of physical therapy to get you back into shape.

What these therapists can do is correct your posture and train your body out of bad habits it fell into while you healed.

Bunion Treatment

It is important to note that bunions will not get better without treatment. You can stop them from getting worse, but cannot reverse the damage done.

Treatment is a long process and may require surgery for severe cases.

bunion treatment

Immediate Relief

Immediate relief can come in a few forms. To ease the pain of the bunion, rest your feet as much as possible and go barefoot when you are at home. There is really no point in wearing shoes while chilling indoors!

When shoes aren’t optional, trading your normal kicks out for loose, wide shoes with supportive soles can ease the pain of the bunion. Doing so takes the pressure off the deformity too, preventing it from worsening, and will keep swelling to a minimum.

Generic anti-inflammatories and pain relief can be used as well. Although, these will really only help if the pain is persistent and the bunion is inflamed.

Cold packs can be substituted for medication, and are useful for settling the bunion down after a day of activity.


Now, in the case of very, very minor bunions, you can tape a splint to the affected toe to correct the deformity and prevent it from getting worse.

Sleeping with the splint on will align the toe back into its correct position, although it is not recommended to do this without a doctor’s advice first.

Splints can be found in most pharmacies. If you really want to, you can even slap a splint together with some popsicle sticks and medical tape!

Medical Treatment

Should a bunion have developed far enough that it is causing you pain and hindering your mobility, a doctor or podiatrist will likely start you on the following treatment path.

Doctors will first try to alleviate your pain with methods covered in the immediate relief section above. A doctor’s script will provide more targeted pain and inflammation medication.

They might suggest rotating through heat packs and cold packs, alongside the use of splints to keep swelling down and prevent the toe from tilting further.

The next step will involve fixing everything the bunion messed up. This could mean splinting or taping the toe into a certain position so that it settles into the correct posture, or using orthotics to achieve the same. Basically, this phase is all about restoring the toe to its natural position.

A physiotherapist will get to work on your feet in the next stage of treatment. They’ll look at the musculature of your feet and judge what exercises will best help you get your foot back into shape. Keeping to the routine they prescribe is vital to receiving full functionality.

After this phase, it’s all about preventing bunions from returning – which is covered below.


Surgery is really only used in severe cases when the bunion has deformed to an advanced stage and other treatments just won’t cut it.

If your doctor deems surgery necessary, what will happen is pretty straightforward. You’ll either be knocked out or given a localized anesthetic, and then a surgeon will cut or shave the deformed bone down and correct the toes’ alignment, before stitching you back up.

This type of surgery is called a bunionectomy and is considered a last resort in the case of bunions.

Here’s a video showing more details on treatment for bunions.


What Happens If Bunions Are Left Untreated?

Very firmly put, bunions are not a condition that you can put in the ‘deal with it later’ box. The sooner you act, the better.

Untreated bunions will deform until the pain is constant and cannot be ignored. Not only will this pain reduce your mobility, which interferes with more aspects of your life than you may realize, but it will lessen the quality of your life.

Due to the constant strain, too, bunions can cause arthritis in the big toe. It is worth pointing out that it does take years and years for bunions to get this bad.  However, if they’re treated immediately, you can avoid a great deal of hassle as well as medical expenses.

Bunion Prevention

Since no one can really nail down what causes bunions, it can be tricky to find ways to prevent them from developing.

There are things you can do to catch them early, however.

Check the Family Tree

Ask your family if they have ever had bunions. As there is evidence of bunions being somewhat hereditary, checking out the family tree can help you know whether or not to be alert.

Shoe Inserts and Proper Footwear

It may seem repetitive, but good shoes with a pair of orthopedic inserts can save you a world of trouble. These will support your feet and disperse pressure evenly across the foot.

Avoiding heels as every-day wear, or other types of shoes with tight toe-boxes or slopes that put all the pressure on the balls of your feet, will certainly reduce pressure on your toes as well.



This article has been all about the oddly named deformity known as bunions.

These painful growths appear on the inner foot and deform the toe over time, but thankfully, treatment is a long yet simple process.

Catching them early on is the best bet! Be alert and save yourself some pain.