Bunions animation

A bunion is a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. This animation shows how a bunion forms and explains what could cause it.

Media last reviewed: 13/08/2014

Next review due: 13/08/2016

Who is affected?

Anyone can develop a bunion, however, they are more common in women than men. This may simply be because of the style of footwear that women wear.

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A bunion is a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe.

The main sign of a bunion is the big toe pointing towards the other toes on the same foot, which may force the foot bone attached to it (the first metatarsal) to stick outwards. The medical name for this toe deformity is hallux valgus.

This can change the shape of your foot and lead to swelling, pain and tenderness around the big toe.

These symptoms usually get worse if the bunion is left untreated, so it is best to see a GP at some stage. Your GP will be able to examine your foot and recommend treatments.

Read more about the symptoms of bunions and diagnosing bunions.

Why do bunions happen?

It is not known exactly what causes bunions, but it is linked to your family history. Wearing badly fitting shoes is thought to make the condition worse.

It is also thought that bunions are more likely to occur in people who have unusually flexible joints, and that this flexibility may be inherited. This is why bunions sometimes occur in children.

In some cases, certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, may also be responsible.

Read more about the causes of bunions.

How are bunions treated?

There are a range of treatments for bunions available.

Usually, non-surgical treatments will be tried first, including painkillers, orthotics (such as insoles), and bunion pads. However, these are only able to reduce the symptoms of bunions, such as pain. They do not improve the appearance of your foot.

Surgery may be considered if your symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, how severe the symptoms are, your age, and any other associated medical conditions.

Read more about treating bunions


If you don't seek treatment for bunions, they can lead to further problems. For example, bunions can cause arthritis in your big toe and they can also push your second toe out of place.

Problems can also result from bunion surgery. While surgery is usually effective (85% of cases improve symptoms), bunions can sometimes return.

Read more about the complications of bunions.

Can bunions be prevented?

The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear well-fitted shoes, as shoes that are tight or have high heels can force your toes together.

You should make sure your shoes are the correct size and that they leave enough room for you to be able to move your toes freely.

Read more about preventing bunions.

Page last reviewed: 01/11/2012

Next review due: 01/11/2014


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Zara1991 said on 13 August 2013

Is it possible to get a bunion on your little toe as well, I have been diagnosed with Metatarsus Primus Varus which has been caused by having a bunion my big toe but the problem is that even though I do get pains around my big toe and around ankle, It's my little toe that is giving me more severe pain, its more swollen and even sticks out more than the big toe does, are they linked?.This problem has put my life on hold, I have been waiting since the middle off this year to see a specialist but am starting to struggle to walk, I'm loosing my sense of balance even when standing still, both sides keep painfully cracking and the pain is starting to keep me awake at night. Any advice what I can do in the meantime till there is a specialist free to see me?

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jamieleer said on 13 January 2013

Does the nhs carry out bunion removal sugury because I have got a very troublesome bunion on the toe next to my big toe and want it removed if possible I do not want to go to my gp about it for him to tell me the nhs don't fund or do. Not do the operation because I have not got enough money to go privirate

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jellywindy said on 06 December 2011

I think people should be aware that untreated bunions can cause further damage. Having had mine for years (as did my mother) I came to accept mine as part of my being, a nuisance in shoe-buying mainly.Recently I was referred to a podiatrist having noticed loss of feeling in my 2nd toe -apparently this had been put out of alignment by the bunion and the next toe has started to claw in order to keep my balance so both these now need pinning as well as the big toe.It seems that this may also have caused my foot and leg musculature to have altered and may be responsible for (thankfully minor) knee and back problems I have been experiencing over years. I would therefore encourage anyone whatever age with bunions to see a specialist for advice even if they have no pain etc.

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