Inflamed, thickened soft tissue and bony overgrowth at the base of the big toe

  • Most common in young adults and older people
  • More common in females
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Wearing tight, pointed shoes, especially with high heels, is a risk factor

A bunion is a thickened lump at the base of the big toe. It often becomes inflamed and painful, making walking difficult. The underlying cause is usually a minor bone deformity, called hallux valgus, in which the joint at the base of the big toe develops an abnormal projection, which forces the tip of the toe to turn towards the other toes. The cause of hallux valgus itself is not known, but the condition runs in some families. As a result of pressure on the deformity, the surrounding tissues thicken. The term bunion refers to the thickened lump that is due to the combination of the bony deformity and thickening of the soft tissue around it. The condition is particularly common in young women who wear tight, pointed shoes with high heels.

In rare cases, the constant rubbing of tight shoes on the skin over a bunion may cause an abrasion, which then leads to a bacterial infection. People with diabetes mellitus are particularly susceptible to infected bunions because the sensation in their feet may be reduced (see Diabetic neuropathy). In such people, damage to the skin tends to heal more slowly.

Without attention, a bunion may gradually worsen. Pain may be alleviated by wearing comfortable shoes and a special toe pad or corrective sock that straightens the big toe. However, if a bunion causes severe discomfort, your doctor may suggest that you have surgery to correct the underlying deformity by realigning the bone (see Bunion surgery). If the bunion becomes infected, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. A bunion increases the chance of developing osteoarthritis of the toe joint in later life.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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