Bunions are bumps that form on the side of your feet, usually on the joint at the base of the big toe. They can cause discomfort when walking or running, and make it tricky to find shoes that fit well. The cause of bunions is not always clear.
In most cases, good footwear is all that is needed to ease symptoms, but in some rare cases, a surgical procedure may be required to fix the problem.
What causes bunions?
It's not always clear why bunions develop. Some people may be genetically more likely to have a weaker joint at the base of the big toe. It's also possible that a bunion may develop or get worse through wearing improperly fitting shoes, or shoes with pointed toes or high heels. In other cases it’s associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
A bunion usually forms at the base of the big toe, as a bump growing at a prominent sideways angle. The skin over this angled joint tends to rub on the inside of the shoe, creating inflammation. Wearing badly fitting shoes will make the bunion worse.
What are the symptoms of a bunion?
Bunions cause pain and discomfort. Some symptoms that indicate a bunion include:
• A pain at the base of your big toe, which may prevent you from walking as you usually do
• Changes to the shape of your foot, such as a swollen bump on the outer edge
• Calloused and red skin, which can be caused by your big toe and second toe overlapping
• The skin over the site of the bunion being sore
How are bunions treated?
There are ways that you can ease bunions pain at home yourself, such as wearing good footwear, however, generally, you should get footwear advice from a GP or podiatrist. They may advise you to:
• Wear shoes that fit you well (shoes with laces or straps that can be adjusted to the width of your foot) and avoid high-heeled, pointed or tight shoes
• Consider losing weight if you’re overweight, to reduce pressure on your feet
• Apply padding over the bunion to cushion it
• Use ice packs to help reduce pain and swelling
If the above treatments have not helped, then you may want to consult your GP again, who will be able to advise you on what other options are available and may refer you to a specialist.
In more severe cases, an operation may be necessary if wearing less restrictive footwear does not ease symptoms and the bunions are causing a lot of pain or negatively affecting your life. The operation aims to straighten the joint as much as possible and ease pain. Your GP will decide whether to recommend you for surgery, based on their assessment of the situation.
If a surgical option is recommended, your surgeon will be able to advise you on caring for your foot after the procedure.
When should you see a doctor for your bunions?
You should make an appointment to see your GP if:
• Your bunions are getting worse
• The pain hasn’t been reduced by using home treatments
• The pain is preventing you from doing your usual everyday activities
• You also have diabetes
• Help to ease the discomfort from bunions with simple remedies such as wearing shoes that don't restrict the foot and using an ice pack to relieve pain
• If your bunions are particularly painful or don’t go away, consult your GP or podiatrist for further treatment