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What is a bunion?

A bunion is an enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the base of the big toe. The big toe may turn toward the second toe. The tissues around the joint may be swollen and tender.

A bony bump at the base of the little toe is called a bunionette or tailor's bunion. The little toe also bends inward, and the joint swells or enlarges.

You can get a bunion from having an unusual walking style, having flatfeet, or wearing tight-fitting shoes. You can treat most bunions at home with a few simple steps. If you have a lot of pain, your doctor may inject medicine into the bunion to reduce swelling for a while. If you still have pain, you may need to have surgery.

How is a bunion diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and carefully examine your toe and joint. Some of the questions might be:

  • When did the bunions start?
  • What activities or shoes make your bunions worse?
  • Do any other joints hurt?

The doctor will examine your toe and joint and check their range of motion. This is done while you are sitting and while you are standing so that the doctor can see the toe and joint at rest and while bearing weight.

X-rays are often used to check for bone problems or to rule out other causes of pain and swelling. Other tests, such as blood tests or arthrocentesis (removal of fluid from a joint for testing), are sometimes done to check for other problems that can cause joint pain and swelling. These problems might include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or joint infection.

How can you care for bunions?
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Wear shoes that have a wide and deep space for the toes. Also, wear shoes that have low or flat heels and good arch supports. Do not wear tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes.
  • Try bunion pads, arch supports, toe spacers, or shoe inserts. They can help shift your weight when you walk to take pressure off your big toe.
  • Put moleskin or another type of cushion on or around the bunion to keep it from rubbing against your shoe.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time as needed. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up your foot on a pillow when you ice your toe or anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe pain.
  • Your toe is cool or pale or changes color.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in the toe.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Pain and swelling get worse.
  • You do not get better as expected.
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