Bunion & Treatments

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Foot pain can be incredibly frustrating. Not only is walking difficult, but even standing can cause pain. If you have foot pain and a thick lump at the base of your big toe, you might have a bunion.

A bunion causes the big toe to move toward your other toes. Though it looks like a simple callous, bunions actually affect your foot all the way down to the bone. Dealing with them can be challenging. 

Treatment for Bunions at UVA Health

When you're first seen at UVA Health, your doctor will assess your bunion. Depending on how long you've had it, how severe it is, and what caused it, we'll discuss several different treatment options with you. 
Not every bunion requires surgery. But all bunions need to be treated to prevent them from getting worse. 

Bunion Treatment Without Surgery

For bunions that aren't severe, we can prevent them from getting worse. These techniques may reduce the pain enough that you'll be able to return to your favorite activities. With all of the non-surgical treatment options, are goals are to relieve pressure and stop progression. 

Padding & Taping

We can use padding to keep pressure off of your bunion. With tape, we can keep your foot in a normal position. Together, these two techniques can reduce pain. 


Medication can ease pain and inflammation, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Cortisone injections

Proper Footwear

Wear shoes that are wide and deep in the toe area. Make sure the top of your shoe doesn't hit or rub against the bunion. You should only have a half-inch of space between your longest toe and your shoe.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can relieve inflammation and pain. Ultrasound therapy is often used to treat bunions and related soft tissue problems.

Orthotics or Shoe Inserts

Shoe inserts may help maintain foot function. They may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity.

Bunion Surgery

Surgery can relieve pressure and includes:

  • Removal of the bony lump
  • A more involved procedure to cut the bone and realign the joint

We consider surgery when:

  • Other treatments fail
  • The pain interferes with walking
  • The foot deformity makes walking difficult

Bunion removal complications could include:

  • Swelling
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Toe may be misaligned or too short
  • The bunion may recur

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking and alcohol abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor health

The Bunion Surgery Procedure

In this procedure, the surgeon typically cuts into the foot near the bunion. Then, using a bone saw, the surgeon removes extra bone.

Sometimes, surgeons have to cut into the toe bone. The surgeon then realigns the bones so your toe no longer slants. You might need a metal pin, screw, or rod to hold the bones in place. 

What You Should Know About Bunion Removal

  • The procedure lasts from less than 30 minutes to over 2 hours
  • You may be released the same day or need to stay in the hospital overnight
  • Recovery can take 8 weeks

What Causes Bunions? 

Bunions can happen because of:

  • Flat feet, which transfer too much weight to the big toe joint
  • Narrow-toed shoes and high heels
  • Certain neuromuscular diseases, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Activities that put undue stress on the feet, such as ballet

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of getting a bunion include:

  • Family members who have foot abnormalities
  • Being female
  • Diabetes

You should seek medical attention if you have diabetes and you are having problems with your feet.

What a Bunion Feels & Looks Like

Symptoms include:

  • Tip of the big toe that turns in toward the other toes and may overlap the second or third toe
  • Firm bump on the outside edge of the foot or at the base of the big toe
  • Restricted or painful motion of the big toe
  • Foot pain and stiffness
  • Fluid-filled cyst between the skin and the bony lump