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Scott Biggerstaff, MD

Bunions are bulging bony bumps that form at the big toe joint on the inside area of the foot. They develop when pressure on the big toe joint pushes it toward the second toe. 

Also called hallux valgus, bunions actually alter the structure of the bone, resulting in the usually tender bump that can make walking and wearing shoes painful.

It is also possible to have a mild bunion that doesn’t feel painful, but over time the joint’s stability can deteriorate and make the bunion larger and more painful.

Who is at risk for bunions?

Most people who get bunions develop them due to genetic reasons. They also occur frequently in women who wear tight or poorly fitting shoes or high heels that compress the toes. 

In fact, three-quarters of bunion patients are women between the ages of 40-65. People with flat feet, gout, rheumatoid arthritis and flexible joints are also at risk.

Know your bunion symptoms

Bunions almost always cause either intermittent or persistent pain and can even restrict the movement of the big toe if it is impacted by arthritis. 

A healthy foot versus a foot with a severe bunion.
A healthy foot versus a foot with a severe bunion.

Other signs to look for include:

  • An angular, bony, painful bump on the outside base of the big toe, sometimes with hardened skin or a callus covering it
  • Swelling, redness and pain around the big toe area that can appear shiny
  • The big toe pointing in the direction of the smallest toe
  • Pain around the ball of the foot
  • Corns or calluses between the toes, or smaller bunionettes on the pinky toe joint.

Bunions can lead to hammertoe, bursitis and metatarsalgia and are considered permanent unless corrected through surgery or minimally invasive bunion surgery.

Dr. Scott Biggerstaff is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon based at OrthoCarolina Winston. He specializes in minimally invasive bunion surgery.

This article was originally published on November 8, 2019, and has been updated on November 30, 2020.


March 03, 2022

I am so glad that I clicked on this page because I have never seen a comparison of real cadaver feet without the skin, one healthy and one with severe bunion deformities to show the real difference! I also didn't know that flat feet can also be a cause of bunions. I have a bunion on my right foot and I have severe flat feet. Thank you for the great information. Lenor
- Lenor Totzke
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

March 09, 2022

Thank you for your note, Lenor. We are sorry to hear of your bunions but glad that this comparison helped you! Please let us know if we can be of any additional assistance for you.

January 31, 2022

Thank you for explaining that bunions can occur in women who wear tight or poorly fitting shoes that compress the toes. I've been thinking that I might have bunions for a while now, but I couldn't figure out how I got them since I don't think it is genetic in my family. It's good to know that it could be from my shoes and makes me want to take a better look at getting ones that will compress my toes less and maybe talk to a doctor about what I can do to correct them.
- Olivia Smart
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

February 01, 2022

Thank you for your comment, Olivia. You can conveniently check out our online scheduling tool to find an OrthoCarolina Foot and Ankle specialist nearest you.

November 20, 2019

I can attest to it being genetics. Dr. Sebold did surgery on both of my Mom’s feet, both of mine, as well as to if my sisters. It was the best thing for all of us.
- Keonna
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

November 21, 2019

Thanks Keonna