A bunion is a bony bump on the inside of your foot, at your big toe joint.

If you’ve ever decided against wearing sandals or open-toed shoes because of bunions, you’re not alone.

People often have misconceptions about bunions. Many people believe that the bony lump sticking out from their foot is just extra bone. But a bunion is actually an angular deformity of the joint at the base of the great toe.

There are many factors to consider about this common but potentially serious foot condition.

Medicine has come a long way, particularly in understanding the problems associated with bunions. Bunions were once thought to be primarily cosmetic deformities that may, for example, cause difficulty fitting into a narrow shoe. They are now known as significant deformities at the big toe joint that can result in progressive arthritis.

For biomechanical reasons, a bunion can also cause stress on the second and third toes. This can lead to additional deformities as well as joint arthritis in the arch.

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What Are Bunions?

Bunions, also known as hallux valgus deformities, are common foot deformities. They cause inflammation of the metatarsophalangeal joint, which connects your big toe to your foot.

This inflammation occurs when the big toe is misaligned with the first metatarsal, which is the bone in your foot located behind your big toe.

Bunions can cause a great deal of pain while walking or even wearing shoes. Causes include:

  • Individual foot type.
  • Foot injuries.
  • Congenital deformities.
  • Hereditary risk.

Types of Bunions

There are two types of bunions: congenital and acquired.

Congenital bunions are inherited and often noticed by someone in their teenage years. Genetics and the way bones form in the foot cause them. Congenital bunions are often non-progressive but still may become arthritic with time.

The second type of bunion is an acquired bunion. This usually happens over time, even in people who had a completely straight toe at birth. Symptoms occur over time and are typically progressive. As a result, patients may be prone to developing symptoms such as arthritis.

“Bunions are hereditary in nature,” says Jarrett D. Cain, DPM, MSc, podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at the UPMC Foot and Ankle Center. “Certain shoe gear and activity may aggravate symptoms. This can have an impact by not allowing people to participate in daily activities that they find enjoyable.”

Treatment for Bunions

Medications, footwear changes, and orthotics all may help with some of the symptoms you experience from bunions.

But often, surgery to remove the bone prominence and realign the toe is the best treatment for acquired bunions. The operation realigns the bone and joint, putting them back to their proper positions.

The surgery can reduce the pain along with the progression of secondary symptoms of arthritis. The results of surgery will improve if treatment begins before the joint becomes arthritic.

“While some bunions can be relieved with changes in shoe gear and activity, there are some deformities that will require surgical intervention,” Dr. Cain says. “The goal is to address the deformity, allowing patients to return to an active lifestyle with reduced symptoms.”

If the bunion progresses to where there is no longer any cartilage on the joint surfaces, realigning the toe will provide cosmetic improvement but will not decrease pain. This is why early detection and treatment of acquired bunions are extremely important.

After bunion surgery, you will be required to regularly check in with your surgeon to monitor your feet. Bunion surgery recovery time typically takes about six to eight weeks to fully recover.

Your doctor may also recommend that you walk with a cane or crutches, as well as continue to wear wider shoes. Wearing constricting footwear can cause bunions to return and even get worse. Some patients may experience minor swelling of the feet for up to one year after surgery.

As our knowledge of bunions progresses, surgical techniques to correct the deformity are improving as well. More effective corrections with faster recovery times are now possible with methods that were unavailable in the past.

To learn more, visit UPMC Orthopaedic Care or call 1-866-987-6784.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.