Bunions : Hallux Valgus


Bunions develop slowly. The big toe is made up of two joints. A bunion is a painful bony bump, also known as hallux valgus that develops on the inside of the foot at the big toe joint.  Pressure on the big toe joint causes it to bend inwards towards the second toe. Over time, the normal structure of the joint changes, resulting in a bunion. The enlarged joint is often inflamed. The deformity gradually increases making it painful to wear shoes or walk. Bunions are more common in women. Many women wear tight, narrow shoes that squeeze the toes together. This makes it more likely for a bunion to develop. In most cases, bunion pain is relieved by wearing wider shoes with adequate toe room and using other simple treatments to reduce pressure on the big toe.

Bunion Progression

An advanced bunion can greatly alter the appearance of the foot. In severe bunions, the big toe may angle all the way under or over the second toe. Pressure from the big toe may force the second toe out of alignment, causing it to come in contact with the third toe. Calluses may develop where the toes rub against each other, causing additional discomfort and difficulty walking.

Foot Problems Related to Bunions

In some cases, an enlarged big toe joint may lead to bursitis, a painful condition in which the fluid-filled sac (bursa) that cushions the bone near the joint becomes inflamed. It may also lead to chronic pain and arthritis if the smooth articular cartilage that covers the joint becomes damaged from the joint not gliding smoothly.


Bunions may be caused by:

  • Wearing poorly fitting shoes—in particular, shoes with a narrow, pointed toe box that forces the toes into an unnatural position
  • Heredity—some people inherit feet that are more likely to develop bunions due to their shape and structure
  • Having an inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or a neuromuscular condition, such as polio.

Diagnosis of bunions

Physical examination of bunions

Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, general health, and symptoms. He or she will perform a careful examination of your foot. Although your doctor will probably be able to diagnose your bunion based on your symptoms and on the appearance of your toe, he or she will also order an x-ray.


X-rays provide images of dense structures, such as bone. An x-ray will allow your doctor to check the alignment of your toes and look for damage to the MTP joint.

Nonsurgical treatment of bunions

In most cases, bunions are treated without surgery. Although nonsurgical treatment cannot actually “reverse” a bunion, it can help reduce pain and keep the bunion from worsening.

Changes in Footwear

In the vast majority of cases, bunion pain can be managed successfully by switching to shoes that fit properly and do not compress the toes.


Protective “bunion-shield” pads can help cushion the painful area over the bunion. Pads can be purchased at a drugstore or pharmacy. Be sure to test the pads for a short time period first; the size of the pad may increase the pressure on the bump. This could worsen your pain rather than reduce it.

Orthotics and Other Devices

Orthotics (custom-made shoe inserts) may be used to take pressure off your bunion. Toe spacers can also be placed between your toes to try and straighten the big toe. In some cases, a splint worn at night that places your big toe in a straighter position may help relieve pain.


Applying ice several times a day for 20 minutes at a time can help reduce swelling. Do not apply ice directly on your skin.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen  can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Other medications can be prescribed to help pain and swelling in patients whose bunions are caused by arthritis.

Bunions and surgery

Your doctor may recommend surgery for a bunion, after a period of time, if you still have pain and difficulty walking despite changes in footwear and other nonsurgical treatments. Bunion surgery realigns bone, ligaments, tendons, and nerves so that the big toe can be brought back to its correct position.



Physiotherapists in Tralee stocking a wide range of orthotics to treat various foot conditions. Phone 0867700191