A bunion is a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe.
The main sign of a bunion is the big toe pointing towards the other toes on the same foot, which may force the foot bone attached to it (the first metatarsal) to stick outwards. The medical name for this toe deformity is hallux valgus.
This can change the shape of your foot and lead to swelling, pain and tenderness around the big toe.
These symptoms usually get worse if the bunion is left untreated, so it is best to see a doctor at some stage. An orthopaedic specialist will be able to examine your foot and recommend treatments.
Why do bunions happen?
It is not known exactly what causes bunions, but it is linked to your family history. Wearing ill fitting shoes is thought to make the condition worse.
It is also thought that bunions are more likely to occur in people who have unusually flexible joints, and that this flexibility may be inherited. This is why bunions sometimes occur in children.
In some cases, certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, may also be responsible.
How are bunions treated?
There are a range of treatments for bunions available.
Usually, non-surgical treatments will be tried first, including painkillers and anti-inflammatory injections. However, these are only able to reduce the symptoms of bunions, such as pain. They do not improve the appearance of your foot.
Surgery may be considered if your symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, how severe the symptoms are, your age, and any other associated medical conditions.
If you don’t seek treatment for bunions, they can lead to further problems. For example, bunions can cause arthritis in your big toe and they can also push your second toe out of place.
Can bunions be prevented?
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear well-fitted shoes, as shoes that are tight or have high heels can force your toes together.
You should make sure your shoes are the correct size and that they leave enough room for you to be able to move your toes freely.