When to See a Doctor for Bunions

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

Home treatments may help small bunions, but others need medical treatment which can include bunion surgery.

Businesswoman massaging her foot

The term bunion (medically, hallux valgus) describes a deformity of the first joint of the big toe—the joint that connects the toe to the foot. Bunions are easy to identify, based on the large bump that develops at the affected joint and by the way the big toe turns toward the second toe. Bunions can be very painful and unsightly. Sometimes you can try a home remedy for bunions, but other times you’ll need professional bunion treatment, even bunion surgery.

Signs you should see a doctor for bunions

Most bunions progress over time from small and manageable to large, uncomfortable and unsightly. If your bunion causes constant pain or interferes with your ability to wear shoes due to the bunion’s prominence, you should investigate professional bunion treatment. Your doctor will explain how to treat bunions with medical interventions that may include surgery to correct the joint deformity.

Bunion treatment at home

If your bunion is small and not very painful, you can try some bunion home remedies. Many people find these strategies helpful:

  • Apply an over-the-counter bunion pad to the affected joint for cushioning
  • Apply ice periodically
  • Change your shoe type away from high heels or narrow toe boxes to flat shoes with plenty of room for your toes to move
  • Identify situations that make your bunion pain worse, such as standing on your feet all day or participating in sports or dancing, and modify or avoid those activities
  • Measure the width of your foot at a shoe store to make sure you’re buying the correct shoe size
  • Take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen for bunion pain and swelling (watch for possible allergic reaction if you are taking these meds for the first time)
  • Wear a bunion corrector, a device that gently aligns the big toe in a more normal position

Common causes of bunions

Bunions occur when the main joint of the big toe becomes deformed due to a faulty gait (the way you walk) that puts undue force on the affected joint. Being prone to bunions tends to be inherited, and most people develop them due to a mechanical issue with the way their feet move when they walk.

People with flat feet face a higher risk of developing bunions. You can also develop a bunion due to an underlying medical disorder, such as inflammatory arthritis. Shoes that squeeze the toes or force them into abnormal positions also contribute to bunion development by displacing the natural alignment of the toe joint.

Who to see for bunions

If your bunion is bothering you, start by talking with your primary healthcare provider. He or she may refer you to a podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, or a foot and ankle specialist. Alternatively, you can make an appointment directly with a specialist provider—just make sure to check with your insurance to find out if the provider is in-network or if you need a referral from your primary care provider.

Bunions can be very painful, but with home care in the initial stages and medical intervention when the bunion becomes severely deformed, you can find relief.

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  1. Bunions. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001231.htm
  2. Bunions. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/bunions
  3. Frequently Asked Questions About Bunion Surgery. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. https://www.foothealthfacts.org/article/frequently-asked-questions-about-bunion-surgery
  4. Bunions. American Podiatric Medical Association. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=979
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 1
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