What is a bunion?

A bunion is a bony bump on the inside of the base of your big toe. It’s essentially a deformity of the joint between your big toe and your foot. There are lots of theories about why bunions develop including:

  • foot injuries
  • genetics
  • arthritis (especially rheumatoid arthritis)
  • wearing pointy or tight shoes or high heels (experts disagree about this one)

Experts disagree about whether shoes cause bunions, but people who wear high heels or narrow/pointed shoes are more susceptible to bunions.

Most of the time, bunions don’t require medical treatment. But sometimes bunions can lead to other problems such as bursitis, hammertoe and pain in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia).

What are the symptoms of a bunion?

The main signs of a bunion are:

  • a bony bulge on the side of the base of your big toe
  • your big toe points toward or crosses the second toe

You may also have pain and swelling around the base of your big toe and calluses or corns if your toes cross. It may be hard to find shoes that fit comfortably.

What does your doctor look for?

Your doctor will take a thorough history to understand how it is affecting our function and quality of life and then examine your foot, looking for the deformity and other problems in the foot or ankle.

What investigations are needed?

Your doctor can diagnose a bunion on physical examination. An X-ray may be requested to identify the cause and severity of the bunion.

How are bunions treated?

Treatment options for bunions include:

  • wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes
  • therapy (eg padding, taping or splinting; shoe inserts)
  • medications (eg anti-inflammatories; steroid injections into the joint)
  • surgery

Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.

Bunion surgery

Surgery is generally reserved for people who have bunions that cause persistent pain and interference with day to day life.

There are several different surgical procedures for bunions. They involve one or more of the following:

  • realigning the bone to straighten the big toe
  • removing a section of bone to straighten the big toe
  • removing swollen tissue around the big toe joint
  • fusing (arthrodesis) the affected bone
  • surgery to correct other toe deformities at the same time

While you may be able to walk on your foot straight after surgery, complete recovery can take months. You’ll need to wear comfortable, well-fitted shoes after the surgery.

Post-op rehabilitation

You may be given a special shoe that takes the pressure off the front of your foot and you will need to keep your foot elevated as much as possible to reduced swelling. The swelling should resolve within 8–12 weeks, which is when you can return more vigorous activity (eg some sports).

Possible complications

Bunion surgery is generally very successful. But complications can occur. These include bleeding during and after surgery, infection and altered sensation at the surgery site.When the bone is cut there is a chance that it will not heal (non-union).  It’s also possible for the bunion to recur.