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What are bunions, and what causes them?

Bunions are often described as looking like a bump on the side of the toe. A bunion occurs when the joint at the base of the big toe becomes enlarged and repositioned to lean toward the second toe. The joint at the base of the little toe can also be affected.

At the early stages, bunions begin with the big toe angling in toward the second toe. With time, an identifiable bump may develop, with the joint becoming increasingly enlarged and angled off-centre. While you may never develop symptoms from having a bunion, symptoms usually become more noticeable as the condition progresses.

Side view of a woman in high heels standing on stone steps

Symptoms can include:

  • A bump on the outside of the base of the big or little toe.

  • Limited ability to move your toe.

  • Soreness or pain.

  • Redness and swelling.

  • A feeling of burning or numbness.

  • A thickening of the skin at the affected area.

  • Development of corns or calluses where the toes overlap.

Rear view of woman standing in jeans & boots with legs crossed

Bunions most commonly affect women. Bunions often develop as a result of wearing ill-fitting, or restricting, shoes. Wearing narrow shoes that are tight in the toe area (such as high heels) can lead you to develop bunions. Continuing to wear these shoes can also make symptoms worse.

Bunions can also develop as a result of inherited factors or stress on your feet.

Sometimes X-rays are taken to determine the integrity of the joints of the foot and to screen for underlying conditions.

Rear view of a woman in high heels walking on stone steps