Bunions: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Dr. James Halloran and a patient discussing foot conditions that cause pain.As an orthopedic doctor specializing in foot and ankle conditions, I treat many people who are dealing with foot pain caused by bunions. A bunion, also known as hallux valgus, is a painful, bony bump that develops on the joint at the base of the big toe. This joint is called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. Pressure on the big toe causes it to push against the second toe. Over time, this pressure can alter the toe’s normal bone structure so the MTP joint sticks out, causing pain, swelling and redness as it chafes against the inside of the shoe. The MTP joint absorbs much of our weight when we’re on our feet, so a bunion can make walking very uncomfortable.

In a previous article, I explained the treatment options for bunions, which now include Lapiplasty 3D Bunion Correction surgery – an innovative surgical procedure specially designed to treat the root cause of the bunion. In addition to treatment options, many patients also have questions about what causes bunions, what signs to look for if you think a bunion is developing, and how to prevent bunions. Below, I answer those commonly asked questions.

What Causes Bunions?

Bunions are complex deformities caused by an unstable MTP joint. They can stem from a hereditary condition such as low arches, flat feet or a structural foot defect – or possibly from another issue, such as:

  • Wearing shoes that are narrow and tight, putting too much pressure on the toes, is a common factor in the development of bunions. This includes high heels and is a primary reason why women get bunions more often than men. However, any footwear that doesn’t fit properly can lead to bunions.
  • Medical conditions that cause inflammation, such as arthritis
  • Weak muscles in the foot
  • Having one leg longer than the other is also a risk factor for developing a bunion (on the big toe of the longer leg).

What are the Symptoms of Bunions?

The primary sign of a bunion is the bony bump on the inside of the foot where the MTP joint is protruding. Other symptoms include:

  • Persistent, intermittent or shooting pain at the base of the big toe
  • Swelling, redness or soreness on or around the bump
  • Hardened skin or a callus on the bump; corns and calluses can also develop where the big toe is overlapping the second toe
  • Discomfort or numbness when moving the toes
  • Difficulty walking due to foot pain

How Can I Prevent Bunions?

It may not always be possible to prevent bunions, especially if you have a hereditary condition that makes you more susceptible. But you can help decrease your risk with these preventive measures:

  • Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly, with plenty of room at the top for your toes. If you have flat feet, look for supportive shoes.
  • Avoid high heels or shoes with pointed toes that crowd the top of the foot or force the toes into unnatural positions.
  • Exercise your feet to strengthen the muscles, like using your toes to pick up small objects.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

If you have a bunion or are experiencing other foot pain, we can help. To get more information or expert recommendations, call for an appointment at 913-319-7600.

About the Author

James P. Halloran, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of foot, ankle and knee conditions.James Halloran, M.D. is a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon whose primary clinical interest focuses on diagnosis and treatment of conditions involving the knee, ankle, and foot. Dr. Halloran completed fellowship training in both sports medicine and foot/ankle surgery. 


The medical information contained in the Dickson-Diveley Orthopaedics website is provided to increase your knowledge and understanding of orthopedic conditions. This information should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific medical or surgical treatment plan. As each patient may have specific symptoms or associated problems, the treatment regimen for a specific patient may not be the proper treatment for another.

Gaining knowledge and understanding of a particular problem or condition is the first step in any medical treatment plan. I believe the information presented on our website will be helpful for those individuals experiencing ankle pain, or other related problems. However, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your family physician. You are encouraged to consult with your physician to discuss any course of treatment presented or suggested.