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Bunion Foot Pain

Painful bump on the side of your big toe? Why you shouldn’t ignore a bunion.

That painful bony bump on the side of your big toe? It’s probably a bunion. Nearly a quarter of people age 18-65 have bunions, making them one of the most common foot issues among adults. They also run in families and are more prevalent among women (thanks, cute heels), and among those over 65. In fact, more than a third of people over age 65 (36 percent) have bunions.

Whether it runs in your family or you’ve been choosing fashion over function, there are five key things you should know to deal with your bunion and move past the pain.

What causes bunion pain?

We know what predisposes people to getting bunions, but what’s happening with our feet to cause so much pain?  It starts when your big toe begins to turn in toward your second toe. As that happens, the joint at base of the big toe bone pushes out to the side, where it meets your footbone (called the first metatarsal) and that pressure causes pain. This area carries a great deal of weight when you are standing or walking, and that pressure causes pain. The area may become red and callused over time. The pain can become so severe that it’s difficult to wear shoes.

Bunions range from mild to severe and should be treated differently

Depending on how prominent and painful your bunion is, your orthopedic or podiatric surgeonmay recommend a variety of treatments that can slow the progression of your bunion, or minimize the pain, but surgery is the only way to truly correct the situation. Beware of ‘treatments’ claiming non-surgical bunion removal.

Popular methods to manage bunion pain and slow progression are wearing supportive well-fitting shoes that align your foot properly for walking, using orthotics or a gel pad to cushion the area when wearing shoes and wearing a splint at night.

There are a variety of available orthotics (or orthoses) including over-the-counter or off-the-shelf commercial products and, as necessary, custom-molded orthotics that are generally prescribed medical devices.

Bunion surgery may be needed

Moderate or severe bunions and can involve cutting the joint at the big toe and then aligning it properly. In more severe cases, the entire joint may be replaced with metal plates and screws.  See a video animation of how surgery corrects the bunion. 

Don’t ignore bunion pain

If you let a bunion become too severe, you are likely to run out of non-surgical options for pain relief and may even need to consider a more involved surgical procedure such as replacing a joint in your toe or fusing bones together. This equates to a longer and more complex recovery time, not to mention prolonging your pain unnecessarily by not seeing a doctor and making a treatment plan. If you’ve had pain for a year or more, it’s definitely time to see a doctor to review your options.

Recovery takes time
The most common kind of bunion surgery is on an out-patient basis and takes around two months to recover. Your doctor will work with you to create a recovery plan which may include a special boot, rest, stretching and/or physical therapy. Active adults who want to return to load bearing exercise like running and jumping may need longer to get back in the action – but that’s time well spent if they can return to their activities bunion and pain free.

Learn more about your bunion treatment options with one of our podiatric surgeons:

Best Foot and Ankle Surgeons

Keith Jacobson, DPM

Dr. Keith Jacobson


Alan Ng, DPM

Dr. Alan Ng


Scott Resig, MD

Dr. Scott Resig


Bunion treatment

Spring Has Sprung! Are your feet sandal-ready? Why you shouldn’t put off bunion treatment.

Denver – bunion treatment can be the difference between walking with a spring in your step or nagging bunion pain that has you walking on egg shells. Bunion pain affects approximately one-third of the population and disproportionately impacts those who’s occupation requires long periods of standing or walking.

What is a bunion?

Bunions – bony bumps that form at the base of the big toe and produce a wider than usual foot profile  – are the result of excess bone growth or bone misalignment that causes the big toe to press against the second toe, causing rubbing of the bump in shoegear.

What causes bunions and bunion pain?

There’s a good reason why bunion pain can be so significant: because we wear shoes.

There are many factors that lead to bunions but they all share a common trait: they progressively worsen over time. Arthritis, trauma, or skeletal structure may produce a bunion but frequently bunions can be traced to your family tree. Bunions are more common in females (who are nearly 10 times more likely to develop bunions) because many female shoes place feet in tight, unnatural, and structurally unstable positions.

Bunion treatment:  How do I treat bunion pain?

Bunion treatment ranges from conservative options to surgery. The most common conservative bunion treatment involves modifying footwear, reducing swelling and managing pain. Changing footwear to provide your expanded foot more room or incorporating foot pads and inserts to better distribute the stress and pressure can help more moderate bunion pain. Applying ice after long periods of on your feet also helps reduce swelling; and pain medications and anti-inflammatories ranging from over the counter options like ibuprofen, to cortisone injections focus on delivering much-needed pain relief.

How do I know if I need bunion surgery?

Bunions are easy see at the base of the big toe, or on the side of your foot. The condition is progressive – meaning that they typically get worse, not better over time and these changes may be visibly apparent. If your bunion pain is impacting your daily life, it’s time to get an expert diagnosis. To provide a comprehensive evaluation, your orthopedic/podiatric surgeon will do a physical exam, and also take x-rays to see the severity of your bunion and any change over time.

Depending on the progression of your bunion, your surgeon will work with you to determine the best treatment plan, which may include bunion surgery.

If surgery is the best resolution for your bunion pain, your doctor will outline what the procedure entails, which could involve removing bone, or may require bone realignment or permanent bone fusion.



How long does bunion surgery recovery take?

Recovery, like surgical treatment options, varies by patient. While some patients can walk immediately after surgery, most have a weeks or months-long recovery that is determined by patient condition, age, fitness and how involved of a surgical treatment was required to provide relief. But with a full recovery, bunion patients typically experience total relief from their bunion pain and full return to activity.

If you invest in bunion surgery, be sure to protect your feet during and after recovery and know that supportive footwear is a must.

Spring is time to put the boots away, show off a new pedicure, and forget about bunion pain. The Advanced Orthopedics team can help you to put your best foot forward. Enjoy the weather, but take care of your feet. Schedule an appointment today with podiatrist and Denver foot and ankle surgery expert Dr. Keith Jacobson to put the spring back in your step!