What Can I Do About Bunions?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 02, 2023
2 min read

You have probably already seen a foot with a bunion, a common condition. The big toe points laterally (towards the little toe), and there is a bony bump at its base. The bump may be red and tender.

Even though bunions are obvious from the pain and unusual shape of the big toe, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor.

You’ll probably get X-rays of your bunion. You may also get blood tests if your doctor thinks that a type of arthritis such as gout or an infection may be causing the pain. With the results, your doctor can decide whether you need orthopedic shoes, custom made inserts, medication, surgery, or other treatment.

First, your doctor will check on why you have bunions. The cause will affect what treatment you need.

Your doctor might recommend a prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever, and medicine to relieve swelling and pain.

You may also want to use a heating pad or warm foot bath to ease the immediate pain and discomfort. Some people find that ice packs help.

If your bunion doesn’t hurt all the time and you catch it early, you may just need to change to well-made shoes that fit you right.

Some doctors advise bunion pads, splints, or other shoe inserts, as long as they don’t put pressure elsewhere on your foot and worsen other problems.

In some cases, an orthotic specialist can prescribe shoes with specially designed insoles and uppers that take the pressure off affected joints and help the foot regain its proper shape.

Some bunions may need surgery, but only if your walking is impacted or the pain is really bothersome. You shouldn’t get surgery just because you don’t like the way the bunion makes your foot look, because the risks can outweigh the benefits.

You’ll want to talk with your doctor about what you can expect, and what the recovery will be like.

The surgery is called bunionectomy. You may get it done in a hospital or a surgery center.

You may get local anesthesia, which numbs the area, and sedation. Or you might get general anesthesia so you’re not awake for the procedure.

The surgeon can often realign the bone behind your big toe by cutting the ligaments at the joint.

For a severe bunion, you may need to have the bone cut in what’s called an osteotomy. The surgeon may need to insert wires or screws to keep the bones in line, and shave off or remove excess bone.

Some possible problems after surgery:

  • The bunion comes back.
  • The surgery doesn’t correct the problem enough, or overcorrects it so that your toe now points inward.
  • The pain continues.
  • You can’t move your big toe as well as before.