What does a bunion look like?

Updated April 17, 2017

Hallux valgus, commonly referred to as a bunion, is a common deformity of the foot that most commonly appears on the ball of the foot. Diagnosing a bunion is fairly simple because bunions are almost always visually evident. Some people have bunions that are relatively harmless, while others have bunions that can grow at an alarming pace and inhibit their everyday activities. Bunions can cause a great deal of pain, including skin redness and irritation, joint pain, and shifting of the bones in other toes.


Bunions most commonly appear as a large, hard bump at the ball of the foot, beneath the skin. In an X-ray, it's evident that a bunion is actually an enlargement of the bone and tissue of the metatarsophalangeal joint, beneath the big toe. Because of the joint's enlargement, the big toe is pushed away from the ball of the foot toward the second toe, often shifting all of the other toes as well. The large bump at the ball of the foot might become red, irritated, inflamed and painful.

Causes of Bunions

Bunions can be caused by a number of factors. They can be genetically inherited or the product of other foot deformities such as flat feet or irregular bone structure. Bunions can also be caused by ill-fitting footwear. Shoes that are too tight or pinch the toes can actually cause bunions by squeezing the toes and rubbing the ball of the foot.

Non-surgical Treatment

Bunions grow at different rates, and mild bunions might not require invasive treatment. A simple change of your shoes might inhibit the growth or irritation of a bunion if it isn't progressively debilitating. Orthotics are the most common non-surgical treatment and can include toe spacers made of gel or foam, bunion cushions or splints. Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce the inflammation of the joint. Corticosteroids can be injected in the bunion to reduce an inflamed bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that sometimes accompanies a bunion.

Surgical Treatment

If bunions seriously inhibit daily activity or mobility, surgery might be necessary. A surgeon can shave down the bony enlargement at the ball of the foot and reposition the toes by manipulating the bones or ligaments. Bunion surgery is considered a minor outpatient procedure and generally requires only local anesthetic. Recovery from bunion surgery takes six to eight weeks for a healthy individual, during which time you will have to use crutches.


Bunion surgery is generally successful, although some individuals require repeated procedures. Bunions are not a life-threatening condition, although the discomfort associated with extreme bunions should not be discounted. For some, a simple change of shoes and use of orthotics will provide relief, while others need surgery.

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About the Author

Based in Chicago, Annie Wang has been writing since 2008. Her work has appeared in World Architecture News and other online publications. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and art history from the University of California, Davis.