Understanding Bunions

What Is a Bunion and Who Develops Them?

When you have a bunion, it looks like the joint at the base of the big toe has bulged out along the side of the foot. In that characteristic “bump,” you are actually seeing the effect of additional bone formation in the joint and a mechanical mis-alignment of the big toe (also called the great toe). A bunion causes the big toe to angle toward the smaller toes. This abnormal, and often painful, position is referred to as hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus.

Although bunions affect women much more often than men, tight-fitting and high-heeled shoes are not the sole cause of bunions. Ill-fitting shoes may add to the problem, but some inherited factors may predispose certain people to the formation of bunions, including congenital abnormalities in bone formation, rheumatoid arthritis, nerve conditions and injury.

What Are the Symptoms of a Bunion?

Sometimes bunions cause no symptoms whatsoever, but most bunions cause intermittent (comes and goes) or chronic (persistent) pain at the base of the big toe. The pain may be worse when walking or wearing shoes, and it may feel better when resting. Very painful bunions may appear red and swollen, and feel tender to the touch.

In order to diagnose you properly, your doctor will consider your symptoms, examine your feet, and take X-rays to get a clear view of the alignment of your toes and the condition of the joints in your feet.