Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on September 18, 2023
2 min read

A bunion is a bony, often painful bump at the base of the big toe. It can happen if your big toe leans slightly toward your other toes. Over time, the base of the big toe pushes outward against the first metatarsal bone, which is directly behind it.

Bunions form at a joint. That’s where the toe bends normally when you walk. But when you have a bunion, all of your body weight rests on it each time you take a step. It can hurt when you walk. And, because your shoe likely rubs against it, a bunion can also cause calluses to form.

Take a look at your foot. See where the bottom of your big toe connects to your foot? If you see a bony bump there with your big toe headed in the opposite direction, you probably have a bunion. Other symptoms of a bunion include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness when you touch it
  • Pain that is constant or may come and go
  • Limited movement of the joint or toe
  • Corns or calluses

A bunion may also become shiny and feel warm when you touch it.

Foot problems typically start in early adulthood. As we age, our feet spread, and the problems tend to get worse.

Factors that may contribute to bunions include:

  • Genetics. Bunions can run in the family.
  • Foot structure. Weak or poor foot structure can lead to bunions.
  • Leg length. If one of your legs is longer than the other, you may develop a bunion on the big toe of the longer one.
  • Arthritis. Certain types of arthritis make bunions more likely. This is especially true of inflammatory types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Shoes. Wearing high heels or tight shoes may make bunions more likely. This is why they happen in women more than men.

If you have pain when you’re walking in flat shoes that should feel comfortable, make an appointment with a podiatrist (a foot specialist). It could be a bunion or some other problem.

Your doctor will look at your foot. They may want to take an X-ray to decide how best to treat your bunion.

Your doctor may suggest ways to help with the pressure and pain. These include:

  • Wearing shoes that give your feet space.
  • Adding pads or cushions to act as a buffer between the bump and your shoes.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medicine or anti-inflammatory medicines.
  • Adding foot support to your shoes.
  • Icing your bunion, especially when it’s bothering you or you’ve been on your feet too long.

If those measures don’t help enough, you might need surgery. Surgery for a bunion might:

  • Remove inflamed tissue from around your toe joint.
  • Straighten your toe by removing some bone.
  • Realign one or more bones to correct the abnormal angle.
  • Join bones in parts of your foot.

Foot surgery may take time to recover from fully. If you are considering surgery, talk to your doctor about what you can expect.