Bunion Causes, Symptoms and Pain Prevention Tips

Milwaukee podiatrists providing bunion treatments with & without surgery

A bunion (hallux valgus) is best known for causing toe pain and instability in the first joint.

Causes of Bunion on Toes

Learn the common causes of bunions and what YOU can do to prevent them.

If you have joint pain, stiffness, burning, swelling or a deformity at the base of your big toe, you may have a bunion.

Many people with bunions suffer additional discomfort from the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step you take, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk.

Over time, bursitis or arthritis of the big toe joint (aka hallux rigidus) may set in and everyday walking may become difficult and contribute to chronic pain. Left untreated, a bunion can even lead to ankle pain or heel pain.

Jump to a section using the links below, or explore the whole page to learn everything you need to know about bunions and how to find relief from this common toe problem.

What causes a bunion?       Is hallux valgus the same as a bunion?       Treating a tailor’s bunion (bunionette)     
Pediatric & adolescent bunions       Bunion symptoms       How to stop a bunion from getting worse

What a Bunion is Made Of

Bunions are abnormal bone growths interrupting the bone structure of feet.

Responsible for providing leverage to the foot during activities such as walking, pedaling, dancing, and running, the big toe is one of the most important tools the human body has for keeping balance. When a bunion forms, it pushes through the big toe and can cause unexpected severe pain, particularly dorsal bunions (spurring of the bone in the top of the big toe joint).

This is caused by a bone or tissue in the joint of the big toe moving out of place. This can be caused by prolonged, unnatural pressure on parts of the foot and genetic disorders.

Hallus Valgus or Bunion

Hallux valgus is the medical term for a big toe deviating from the midline (straight ahead) and instead angling towards the other toes. (Not to be confused with hallux varus, a different type of toe deformity).

A bunion is an enlarged painful bump on the side of the first big toe joint, formed when the fluid-filled sac in the joint becomes inflamed and swollen.

Hallux valgus and bunion are used interchangeably and describe the same deformity: a bunion forms because of the changes in the underlying bone structure.

before and after xrays of tailors bunion correction

Before (left) and after (right) xrays showing a bunionette correction.

Tailor’s Bunion a.k.a. Bunionette

A tailor’s bunion is very similar to a bunion only it is located on the outside of the foot by the little toe. It is called a tailor’s bunion because it was thought to develop in tailors from sitting cross-legged.

A tailor's bunion is usually caused by misformation of the metatarsals (foot bones), an inherited trait. A typical bunionette is produced when the fifth metatarsal bone skews outward and the pinkie toe angles inward. In some cases what looks like a tailor's bunion turns out to be a bone spur on the side of the bone.

Bunionettes are not as common as bunions, but the symptoms are similar. Both bunions and bunionettes can cause debilitating pain when running or even just walking.

Conservative and surgical treatments for bunionettes are also similar to the options for bunion treatments. If surgery for a tailor's bunion is necessary, your podiatrist may remove the bony protrusion or cut and realign the bone.

What Causes a Bunion to Grow

When bunions are forced to grow, it can be caused by the narrow spaces of shoes. Although bunions can be grown this way, they are usually not the result of shoes too small for their users. Bunions are often tied to hereditary genes. For instance, if you are an individual with low arches, loose joints, or flat-footed feet, you have an increased chance of developing bunions during your lifetime.

Common Risk Factors for Bunion Formation

  • The main cause is hereditary biomechanical issues.
  • Uneven pressure of bearing and shifting your weight on the joints and tendons in your feet.
  • People who wear shoes that are too tight, too narrow or too pointed, such as high heels are more susceptible to bunion pain and symptoms.
  • Pain from arthritis may change the way you walk, making you more susceptible to bunions.

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Milwaukee child with healthy feet and toes

Our podiatrists help keep kids' toes and feet healthy.

Understanding Juvenile Bunions

Bunions in Children

There is no such thing as being too young for bunions. Children can develop juvenile bunions due to genetics, congenital malformations, and tight shoes. Juvenile bunions can be fixed if they are severe. However the surgical podiatrist must be mindful of the growth plate in the bone. After a pediatric bunionectomy there is a higher rate of recurrence compared to adults. Recovery can also take up to half a year, a major disruption for children in school or on sports teams. As a result, alternatives to surgery are recommended. This can include getting new shoes and toe exercises.

Bunions can be genetic, so parents with bunions should regularly check their children’s feet for signs of juvenile bunions.

Bunions in Teenagers

Adolescent bunions in teenagers are slightly different from traditional bunions. The toe will still be mobile, making it harder to diagnose. Like juvenile bunions, operating will remove the bunion but can lead to a high chance of recurrence.

Athletic shoes for boys and girls can lead to bunions if they are too tight or apply pressure to the toes

Milwaukee teenagers wearing tight fitting shoes that can cause bunions

Tight shoes and extra stress on toes can lead to bunion formation.

. With teens going through growth spurts, it’s vital to regularly get new shoes to prevent bunions.

Teen girls are more likely to develop adolescent bunions than boys. One potential cause for this is women’s shoes being narrower, leading to crowded toes and the development of bunions. Ill-fitting high heels also lead to discomfort.

Young Adult Bunion Treatment

Bunions which appear in the after age 20 are no longer considered juvenile or adolescent. A bunionectomy should not cause a greater likelihood of recurrence since the body is done growing. Before resorting to any surgery, options like toe spacers and splints will be recommended. A visit to the podiatrists of Advanced Foot & Ankle of Wisconsin is recommended so we can start keeping track of the size of the bunion.

Symptoms of Mild and Severe Bunions

Bunions come with a set of symptoms inflicting pain in the feet of men and women all around Wisconsin. These symptoms can sometimes be felt at night, after running, or during inactivity as well. These symptoms are similar to hammertoe symptoms, but if you check off most of these as the side effects you are suffering from, you probably have a bunion:

  1. Inability to move your big toe
  2. Formation of corns & calluses around toe
  3. Prolonged and consistent pain
  4. A visible bulge on your big toe's joint
  5. Irritated, red sore skin around the joint of your big toe

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DIY, Natural and Medical Bunion Treatments

If you have determined you are being affected by a bunion, it’s time you take a look at your options.

Don’t ignore them! They will only grow and cause further deformities in your foot, meaning the pain will only get worse as time passes. If you know bunion removal surgery isn’t your first priority, there are many different natural bunion remedies you can try first, but most of these techniques only subdue the symptoms temporarily.

How to Prevent Bunions from Getting Worse

Bunion Symptoms and Prevention Options

Consult a podiatrist for bunion pain for effective, lasting treatment!

If your bunion has already formed, it can be difficult managing the pain on your own. In modern times, we are fortunate to have access to different methods and remedies from around the world to help curb the side effects of painful bunions. If you consistently practice these recommendations, you may be able to reduce your bunion pain:

  1. Wear a bunion bootie/bunion toe straightener
  2. Use anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain
  3. Cool or heat the bunion with massages and ice packs
  4. Put a gel insert (or custom orthotics) in the shoe of the foot affected by the bunion. These help stabilize the joint and place the foot in the correct position for walking and standing.
  5. Work on getting to and maintaining a healthy weight
  6. Splints for nighttime wear help the toes and joints align properly. This is often recommended for adolescents with bunions, because their bone development may still be adaptable
  7. Perform exercises to maintain joint mobility and prevent stiffness or arthritis
  8. Remove corns or calluses on your toes

Bunion Surgery Options

When conservative treatments don’t last and you have persistent severe pain from a bunion on one of your feet or both of your feet, your best option is to consult a surgical podiatrist. No two feet or bunions are alike, and there are many surgical procedures for correcting bunions.

The type of bunion surgery, or bunionectomy, recommended by your podiatrist will depend on:

  • The size of the enlargement
  • The degree of misalignment of the toe
  • The amount of pain you're in

Many procedures have been developed for bunion correction. The two main types of bunion surgery are known as osteotomies (cut) and lapidus (fusion). There are also different kinds of soft tissue procedures (such as a soft tissue release) your surgical podiatrist may perform in addition to the correction.

Relieve Foot Pain with Expert Podiatrists in Milwaukee, WI

If you have bunion pain, consult the team of professional foot and ankle doctors in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the knowledge and years of experience to give you the optimal natural or surgical treatment the first time.

Not every bunion needs to be surgically removed. But if bunion pain is interrupting your life, it’s time to get in touch with a professional. Contact one of our Milwaukee area foot pain clinics today for a consultation!

Milwaukee’s best foot and ankle doctors specialize in the surgical removal of bunions at Advanced Foot & Ankle of Wisconsin, LLC.