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Bunion ˈbən-yən

By Kendrick Alan Whitney, DPM

In bunion, the joint of the base of the big toe appears to stick out (becomes prominent).

  • Abnormalities in joint position or motion can distort and enlarge or seem to enlarge the joint that connects the big toe with the foot.

  • Pain and swelling can affect the inner part of the joint or the entire joint.

  • Changing shoes, using pads or devices placed in the shoe that help redistribute and relieve pressure from affected joint, or a combination of such measures usually helps.

People who have a bunion often have a deviated position of the big toe or the bone to which it connects. When the base of the big toe is abnormally displaced outward and the big toe points inward (toward the smaller toes), the condition is called hallux valgus (see Figure: Hallux Valgus With a Bunion). Hallux valgus causes a bunion. Other factors that contribute to bunion formation may include excessive rolling inward (supination) of the ankles and occasionally injury. Osteoarthritis may develop, and bone spurs may form. Osteoarthritis may cause joint scarring, limiting the foot’s range of motion. The joint may swell, and a bursa (a painful fluid-filled sac) often develops if tight-fitting shoes are worn. Occasionally, gout can cause sudden attacks in which the bunion becomes red, painful, and swollen.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The first symptom may be painless enlargement of the joint or pain at the joint when wearing certain shoes. Later symptoms may include increasing enlargement without pain; a painful, warm, red swelling at the inner aspect of the joint; and swelling and pain all around the joint. Joint motion is usually restricted.

Hallux Valgus With a Bunion

A hallux valgus is when the base of the big toe points outward, toward the smaller toes and away from the foot. The end of the big toe tilts in toward the second toe. A bunion is enlargement at the base of the big toe. A bursa is a painful fluid-filled sac at the base of the big toe. A bunion is caused by hallux valgus.

Doctors usually base the diagnosis on symptoms and examination findings. If the diagnosis is uncertain, x-rays are taken. If infection is suspected, doctors may withdraw and analyze joint fluid. If multiple joints are affected, tests may be done to diagnose arthritis.


Mild discomfort may be significantly lessened by wearing shoes with a wide toe box. If not, bunion pads purchased in most pharmacies can shield the painful area. Orthoses (devices placed in the shoe) can also help redistribute and relieve pressure from the affected joint. If these measures are ineffective or if the person is unwilling to wear large, wide shoes and orthoses because they are unattractive, surgery is considered. Sometimes taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or injecting a corticosteroid with or without an anesthetic can help relieve pain and swelling. If the joints are stiff, stretching exercises, which occasionally require injection of an anesthetic to relieve muscle spasm, can help. Sometimes, surgery to release scar tissue and improve alignment is necessary.

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* This is the Consumer Version. *