Bunion (hallux valgus)

About bunions

A bunion (hallux valgus) is a deformity caused by the base joint of the big toe developing sideways. This pushes the bones of the big toe towards the smaller toes.

If you have a bunion, try to stay positive. There's a lot you can do to help yourself.

What causes a bunion?

Bunions can be caused by:

  • a genetic (hereditary) tendency to have a weakness of this joint
  • a joint problem such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

In most cases it isn't clear why a bunion develops.

Bunion symptoms

Bunion's can cause:

  • pain and stiffness of the big toe joint
  • swelling of the big toe joint - the foot may become so wide it can be difficult to find wide enough shoes
  • difficulty walking
  • arthritis in the big toe

Most symptoms settle with time.

Tight or badly fitting shoes

Wearing tight or badly fitting shoes puts extra pressure on the big toe joint and causes friction on the overlying skin. This tends to make the problem worse.

The skin over the bunion can also rub on the inside of your shoes. This can cause the skin and tissues over the big toe joint to thicken and become inflamed, swollen and painful. Sometimes a fluid filled sac (bursa) develops over the joint.

How they're diagnosed

To diagnose a bunion, a healthcare professional will ask you about it and examine your big toe.

Other investigations may be considered, these can be discussed with your healthcare professional.

Treating bunions

Wearing the right footwear is one of the best things you can do to help.

Choose flat wide shoes that fit you properly. Ones with laces or an adjustable strap are best as they can adjust to the width of your foot.

Avoid high-heeled, pointed or tight shoes.

Bunion pads

Bunion pads can give you some protection from the pressure of your shoes.

You can usually buy these from pharmacies, chiropodists and podiatrists.

Medication

Many people take medication to cope with their pain and symptoms, and help them remain active.

You may be prescribed pain medication to ease the pain. Make sure you take any medication as prescribed, and get advice from a GP, pharmacist or suitably trained healthcare professional.

Surgery

You may be referred for assessment by an orthopaedic or podiatric surgeon if other treatments don't help and your bunion is very painful.

An operation won't return your foot to normal but most people find it reduces their symptoms and improves the shape of their foot.

Other intervention

There are other health interventions which may be more appropriate for your condition. These can be discussed with your healthcare professional.

Work

If you have a bunion try to stay at or get back to work as soon as possible. You don't need to be fully pain and symptom free to return to work.

Research shows the longer you're off work the less likely you are to return.

Last updated:
11 May 2022