Often, patients have misconceptions about bunions. Many individuals believe that the bony lump sticking out from their foot is just extra bone. But in fact, 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.

Bunions 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, leading to additional deformities as well as joint arthritis in the arch.

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Types of Bunions

There are two types of bunions:

  • Congenital
  • Acquired

Congenital bunions are inherited and often noticed by the patient in their teenage years. This is simply caused by genetics and the way bones form in the foot. Congenital bunions are often non-progressive, but still may become arthritic with time.

Stephen F. Conti, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at UPMC who specializes in foot and ankle procedures, says a congenital bunion that is painless should be supported with an appropriately fitting shoe and occasionally supplemented by the use of orthotics.

The second type of bunion is an acquired bunion. This is typically developed over time, even though the patient was born with a straight toe. This often occurs in women over the age of 40. Acquired bunions are progressive and often result in a much more serious arthritis than the congenital type.

Treatment of Bunions

Acquired bunions are best treated with surgery to realign the toe. This is done through an operation that realigns the joint. It also realigns the arthritic bones and puts them back to their proper positions, which helps slow the progression of arthritis. The results of surgery will be improved if the bunion is treated before the joint becomes arthritic.

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

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

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.