A bunion is a bony outgrowth that develops on the joint right at the base of the big toe.The big toe forcibly pushing against the second toe is what causes bunions to form.

what causes bunions

Two joints make up the big toe, the largest of which is the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). When the big toe leans against the next toe, it gets into an abnormally bent position, causing its joint to swell and bulge outward.

The resulting enlarged joint is usually red and bulbous. The term “bunion” is derived from the Greek word of the same name which means turnip.


Complications of bunions


While bunions are not frequent troublemakers, they can be stubborn and hang on indefinitely unless they are surgically fixed. If ever, complications that come with bunions can include:



In this condition, the ball of the foot becomes swollen and painful.



This is a condition where a toe’s middle joint is bent permanently downward. In the case of bunions, this is usually a result of the big toe crowding the space of second toe (see photo).



Bursitis is a painful condition caused by  the inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs called bursae. The bursae cushion and lessen the friction of the moving parts of the body, particularly the joints.


What causes bunions?


The exact information as to what causes bunions is still unclear. However, there are a number of well-substantiated explanations about how they may develop. Probable factors include:

  • Congenital deformities or foot defect at birth
  • Injuries sustained by the foot
  • Wearing tight narrow shoes can cause bunions or aggravate them
  • Foot structure (hereditary). Some individuals are more likely to develop bunions due to the way their feet are formed.
  • Bunions are also linked to some forms of inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.


What are the symptoms of a bunion?


Bunions show certain signs and symptoms that are easily noticeable:

  • A large bulge at the base of the big toe on the foot’s outside area.
  • Constant or occasional pain
  • Redness, pain and inflammation around the metatarsophalangeal or big toe joint.
  • Limited movement of the big toe
  • Corns or calluses where the first and second toes overlay


When to seek medical attention


While bunions don’t often need special treatment, consult a podiatrist or foot specialist if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Persistent pain on the foot, specifically on the big toe.
  • Difficulty in wearing shoes because of the pain and swelling.
  • Limited movement of the big toe.
  • A prominent bulge at the base of the big toe joint.


Factors that can cause or worsen bunions


There are certain factors that can heighten the risk of bunions, or worsen existing ones.

Shoes with a bad fit

Wearing shoes that are too narrow, too tight, or too pointy are more likely to cause bunions.


High-heeled shoes

Wearing high-heeled shoes jams your toes down and into the front of your shoes. This squeezes the toes together and makes them abnormally aligned.


Hereditary foot type

People who tend to form bunions more likely have inherited structural foot defect.


Rheumatoid arthritis

Individuals with inflammatory conditions like arthritis are more potentially prone to bunion development.


Other bunion types


There are other types of bunions aside from the common bunion variety.


Bunionettes form on the joint of the little toe. Also referred to as “tailor’s bunion”, it develops on the foot’s outer area just below the little toe. While it occurs in another part of the foot, a bunionette has many similarities with the common bunion. Callus, corn, and painful bursitis may form over bulge.


Adolescent bunion

This type of bunion usually occurs in young girls with ages ranging from 10 to 15 years. While wearing tight and narrow shoes is what causes bunions in adults, adolescent bunions are mostly hereditary and run in the family. An adolescent bunion sufferer can still have some freedom of motion on the big toe instead of being restricted as in the case of adult bunions. The common factor, however, is that an adolescent bunion makes it difficult to wear shoes due to the painful swelling.


How to prevent bunions


Ill-fitting shoes are one of the factors in what causes bunions. Buy the right size of shoes for your feet. See to it that there is a space between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe.

Avoid narrow and pointy shoes. Your shoes should comfortably adjust to the shape of your feet. Be sure they don’t squeeze your toes or press against any part of your foot. Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes for prolonged periods.


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