Bunions aren’t pretty, but they are a reality. Here’s what you can do about this painful foot condition.

By Brittany Loggins
Updated December 12, 2019

Even if you’re fortunate enough not to have bunions on your feet, you’ve likely heard of them. They’re those painful, bony bumps that form right on the big toe joint. Not only are they painful, but as they get worse, they become more noticeable and limit the types of shoes you can wear. Basically, they’re just the worst. To find out what causes bunions and how to treat them (or avoid them), Real Simple spoke to Alan Bass, DPM, FACFAOM, a board-certified podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

What Causes Bunions?

Dr. Bass explains that much of what causes bunions comes down to biomechanics. “You may be walking a certain way that’s causing a strain in the foot, which causes the bunion,” he explains. “The shoes you wear may be putting a biomechanical imbalance on the foot, causing the bunion. Or you may have a foot type—most likely a flat, pronated foot—that causes the first metatarsal bone (the long, mid-foot bone on the big toe side) to shift outward while the big toe shifts inward.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Dr. Bass explains that bunions are more common in women “due to the narrow types of shoes that can cause the big toe to shift inward and thereby expose the head of the metatarsal bone and make the bunion more prominent.” That said, some men do suffer from bunions as well.

close-up of foot with bunion
Photo: Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

How to Treat Bunions and Alleviate Pain

Obviously, this doesn’t sound like good news. I immediately figured that if bunions were a result of foot movement, there probably isn't much people can do. But don’t worry—there are a few solutions to treat bunions. “Anyone who's worried about whether or not they have a bunion should be examined by a podiatrist,” Dr. Bass says. “If it's early on, using custom functional foot orthotics can help control the biomechanics of the feet and prevent bunions from occurring.”

If you absolutely must wear those gorgeous high heels with pointed toes, try to at least make sure they’re wide enough to prevent putting more pressure than necessary on the sides of your feet and outer toes. In general, if a bunion is something you’re struggling with, Dr. Bass advises that “wearing shoes wide enough to accommodate bunions is the only thing patients can do to alleviate the pain.”

Once bunions are bad enough, the main option is surgery. These surgeries can range from the surgeon realigning the big toe joint to replacing the damaged joint altogether. There are also some circumstances where the surgeon is able to remove the bunion without a realignment.

“After a bunion is corrected surgically, patients need to remember that the biomechanics and the way they walk has not changed,” Dr. Bass says. “Using functional foot orthotics will help counterbalance the biomechanical forces that first created the bunion.”