Bunions are bony bumps on the feet that can be very painful and make it difficult to wear shoes without discomfort. Bunions are often caused by ill-fitting shoes and are found in about 30 percent of the population. They're more common in women and become more likely with age. 1
In serious cases, large bunions may require surgery to remove them.
Preventing bunion pain and further inflammation requires selecting the right shoes and socks. Look for shoes with a wide toe box, wide instep, and soft soles that have a smooth surface in the bunion area.
You don't want your foot moving too much within the shoe and rubbing the bunion, but it has to be wide enough to fit. Shoes that have stretchy material in the uppers will often be more comfortable. High-heeled or pointed shoes are not ideal if you have bunions.
Here's how to recognize the different kinds of bunions.
Bunion with Skin Irritation
Some bunions are more severe and cause more symptoms than others. The bump on the side of the big toe joint may be red and painful from rubbing against the shoe. Inflammation of the big toe joint and surrounding area may also contribute to the pain. Sometimes bursitis, an inflamed pocket of fluid, can occur over the bump.2
Notice the redness of the bump and shifting of the toes outward, all common signs of a significant bunion.
When you have a large, irritated bunion you need to find shoes that have a wide enough toe box. Once a bunion is very large, it's hard to find shoes that fit and don't cause further inflammation.
This foot has a large bunion at the big toe joint, as well as a tailor's bunion at the pinkie toe. A bunion like this is likely to be easily viewed on an X-ray and may make it challenging to find comfortable shoes.
Bunion With Hallux Limitus
This smaller type of bunion is often seen with a condition called hallux limitus, which is characterized by a limited range of motion at the big toe joint. The limited range of motion leads to jamming of the big toe joint, which over time can cause a bunion to develop on the top of the big toe joint.1
Another term for hallux limitus is hallux rigidus.
Stiff-soled shoes or styles with rocker soles are often recommended for hallux limitus. Custom orthotics may also help.
A tailor's bunion, also known as a bunionette, is a bump that forms on the pinkie toe side of the foot. Like a bunion at the big toe, it is caused by abnormal foot structure or function. The pinkie toe has drifted toward the fourth toe due to the bunion.3
Tailor's bunions are most prominent at the head of the fifth metatarsal (the long bones of the foot). Unlike most bunions, tailor's bunions occur on the outside of the foot rather than the inside.
The legend has it that this type of bunion became known as a tailor's bunion because tailors would sit cross-legged while working, with the edges of their feet rubbing on the ground. It was this rubbing that produced the painful bump on the little toe. But backstory aside, tailor's bunions are often hereditary.