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What Is a Bunion?

Bunions are a common foot deformity. They cause inflammation of the metatarsophalangeal joint, which connects the big toe to the foot.

This inflammation can cause toe positioning deformities and a great deal of pain while walking or even wearing shoes.

What causes bunions?

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that more than half of the women in the United States get bunions.

Women are nine times more likely than men to develop this joint inflammation. One reason that bunions form could be that 9 out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small.

Other risk factors that can lead to bunions include:

  • An individual foot type
  • Foot injuries
  • Congenital deformities

Bunion complications

This inflammation causes the big toe to point toward the second toe and often creates a painful bump on the inside edge of the toe. In some cases, the big toe will move under the second toe.

Sometimes the added pressure to the second toe will make this toe move out of position, even into the third toe.

As the condition advances, the positioning of the foot as a whole may appear extreme in deformity. Because of the altered positioning, wearing shoes may become difficult.

Over time, bunions can cause chronic pain and even arthritis. The repeated strain on the metatarsophalangeal joint and related toe positioning makes walking quite hard and very painful.

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for bunion treatment?

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Bunion Symptoms and Diagnosis

Bunion symptoms

Bunion-related pain and symptoms can become more intense as the condition progresses.

Common symptoms of bunions may include:

  • Red, thick skin along the edge of the big toe
  • Skin tenderness
  • A bony bump at the site of the bunion
  • Joint pain
  • Altered toe positioning
  • Trouble walking
  • Inability to wear certain shoes

Bunion diagnosis

Diagnosing bunions comes after an orthopaedic evaluation of the following three areas:

  • Your medical history
  • A physical exam
  • X-ray results

These three factors aim to assess the scope of your toe misalignment, as well as related circulatory or nerve conditions that could be causing your bunion. 

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Bunion Surgery and Treatment

Treatment goals of bunions

At the UPMC Foot and Ankle Center, bunion treatment goals strive to:

  • Relieve foot pain
  • Restore function in the toes
  • Prevent further deformity to the foot

Bunion relief treatment options

Nonsurgical ways to care for existing bunions and find pain relief include:

  • Choosing wide-width shoes
  • Adding foam or felt padding in shoes to separate toes
  • Wearing shoes with holes in the toe box around the home

If nonsurgical changes to your footwear prove ineffective in treating your bunions, your doctor may suggest a surgical procedure.

Some common bunion removal surgery options include:

  • Big toe tendon and ligament repair
  • Arthrodesis
  • Exostectomy
  • Resection arthroplasty
  • Osteotomy

Benefits and complications of bunion treatment

The benefits of nonsurgical and surgical correction of bunions include:

  • Bunion pain relief
  • Improving the alignment of the toes

If you're considering bunion surgery, note that surgery will not allow you to wear a smaller shoe size or continue wearing narrow-width shoes. Wearing constricting footwear can cause bunions to return and intensify.

After surgical correction of your bunions, you will need to check in regularly with your UPMC orthopaedic surgeon to monitor your feet.

Your doctor may recommend resting for about a week, during which you might need to use a walker, cane, or crutches.

You also may experience some swelling in your feet for up to six months after bunion surgery. 

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