What Is a Bunion?

Picture of a woman holding her left foot, which has a bunion.

A bunion (also referred to as hallux valgus) is a type of foot deformity that gradually develops on the inside of the foot, at the base of the big toe. If the bones within a foot shift out of their normal position, it can cause the big toe to be pulled toward the rest of the toes at a diagonal angle. When this happens, it forces the joint at the base of the big toe to protrude outward, forming a bony bump known as a bunion. It’s important to distinguish bunions from bunionettes, which are similar to bunions but are instead located on the base of the little toe.

Bunion Causes & Risk Factors

Researchers are still working to determine precisely what causes bunions to form. With that being said, many studies suggest that wearing tight shoes with a narrow toe could cause bunions to form or worsen, especially if the shoes have a high heel. Other potential causes include:

  • The inherited shape and structure of the foot
  • Congenital foot deformities
  • Previous foot injuries
  • Certain other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, polio, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

Bunion Symptoms

As was described above, a bunion is a bony protrusion located at the base of the big toe. This can lead to:

  • Pain and tenderness (this may be constant or intermittent)
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Corns or calluses on the bunion itself and between the toes
  • Stiffness and decreased range of motion in the big toe

A bunion is a progressive condition, so the resulting symptoms tend to slowly worsen over time. Eventually, the pain caused by a bunion can make it difficult to walk.

Bunion Treatment

If you think you might have a bunion, it’s important to promptly seek treatment. Not only can bunions cause minor inconveniences—such as not being able to find comfortable, properly fitting footwear—but they can also lead to the development of more serious conditions if left untreated, including bursitis, hammer toe, and metatarsalgia.

Once a doctor has diagnosed you with having a bunion, they’ll develop a course of treatment that’s customized to your specific condition. Many people are able to achieve relief from bunion symptoms using conservative, nonsurgical treatment methods, which might include:

  • Wearing roomier shoes
  • Using bunion cushions, padded shoe inserts, or toe spacers
  • Splinting the big toe overnight
  • Taking pain medication
  • Icing the bunion
  • Undergoing corticosteroid injections

If conservative treatments like these fail to provide relief, surgery may become necessary to straighten the big toe and realign the bones, tendons, ligaments, and nerves within the foot.

Where to Go for Bunion Treatment in Your Area

If your symptoms suggest that you might have a bunion, you’ll need to find an experienced orthopedist who can supply you with first-rate treatment. Luckily, if you’re in Durham, NC, you won’t need to go far to receive the top-notch care you deserve. North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic—a trusted provider that’s been in business since 2003—offers treatment for bunions and a variety of other foot and ankle conditions. We’re open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so contact us today to schedule a consultation at a date and time that’s convenient for you.