Bunions

Bunions is the term for a bony lump that forms on the side of the big toe. They are often associated with deformity of the big toe and of the the smaller toes.

There are lots of options to ease the pain they cause but surgery is the only way to remove the bunion and correct the deformity.

Check if you have bunions

Symptoms of bunions include:

Feet with hard lumps on the side by the big toes
Hard lumps on the sides of your feet, by your big toes
Foot with the big toe pointing to the side towards the other toes
Your big toe pointing towards your other toes
A hard, red lump on the side of a foot by the big toe
Hard, red or swollen skin over the lump

You may also have pain along the side or bottom of your feet. This is usually worse when wearing shoes and walking.

If you're not sure it's a bunion

Foot symptoms Possible cause
Foot symptoms Red, hot, swollen skin over the affected joint that comes and goes Possible cause Gout
Foot symptoms Aching, swollen and stiff joints; usually worse in the morning Possible cause Arthritis
Foot symptoms Pain, bruising and swelling after hurting your toe Possible cause Broken toe

How to ease bunion pain yourself

You cannot get rid of bunions or stop them getting worse yourself. But there are things you can do to relieve any pain:

Do

  • wear wide shoes with a low heel

  • hold an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel to the bunion for up to 5 minutes at a time

  • try bunion pads, these are soft pads you put in shoes to stop them rubbing on a bunion – you can buy these from pharmacies

  • use topical medications (oils and creams) - you can buy these from pharmacies

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen

  • stretch your calf muscles

  • try to lose weight if you're overweight

Don't

  • do not wear high heels or tight, pointy shoes

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the pain has not improved after trying home treatments for a few weeks
  • the pain is stopping you doing your normal activities
  • your bunions are getting worse
  • you also have diabetes – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes

Treatments from a GP or podiatrist

A GP or podiatrist can advise you about:

  • things you can do to ease your symptoms, such as wearing wide shoes that do not squash your toes
  • things you can buy or have made to reduce bunion pain, such as insoles, toe spacers and toe supports

A GP may refer you to a surgeon if your bunions are very painful or having a big effect on your life. Surgery is not done just to improve how your feet look.

Surgery for bunions

Surgery is the only way to remove a bunion and correct any deformity.

The most common operation for bunions is an osteotomy.

This involves:

  1. Making a small cut in the skin over your big toe.
  2. Cutting or scraping away the bunion.
  3. Straightening your toe bone.
  4. Fixing your toe bone in place with metal screws or staples put under your skin. These are often left in permanently.

Surgery is usually done when you're asleep under general anaesthetic.

Most people go home the same day.

It can take a while to recover from surgery. You'll usually need to:

  • stay off your feet as much as possible for at least 2 weeks
  • avoid driving for 6 to 8 weeks
  • stay off work for 6 to 12 weeks
  • avoid sports for up to 6 months

After the operation:

  • your toes might be weaker or stiffer than before
  • your toes may not be perfectly straight
  • your feet might still be slightly wide, so you'll probably have to keep wearing wide, comfy shoes

Surgery is usually successful but bunions can sometimes come back in a small number of patients.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023