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How to Tell If Bunions Are Forming

Posted February 06, 2024 in Bunion Pain

Bunions should not be ignored, as they can cause more significant issues, such as arthritis, hammertoe, and even a loss of foot mobility. While they can be hard to spot, it is a little easier when you know the common causes and early signs of bunions.

6 Min Read:

woman touching foot with one hand

At-home Assessment of Bunions

Daily twinges and aches are sometimes necessary to push through, but repetitive pain and discomfort in the feet are more challenging to ignore–and crucial not to. Undiagnosed bunions can quickly become incredibly painful and limit your mobility, so it’s essential to understand the difference between basic aches and pains and a future podiatric issue.

What Are Bunions? 

A bunion is a term for a misalignment of the joint at the base of the big toe, called the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP joint). As the MTP joint becomes misaligned, the big toe begins crowding the second toe, and so on. 

Bunions start off looking like a bony bump on the side of the toe, but they progressively get worse, becoming red, swollen, and increasingly painful. This degenerative condition gets worse the longer it goes untreated. It’s best to assess your condition and see your podiatrist as soon as possible.


While bunions are located on the outside of the big toe, smaller bunionettes can develop on the side of the little toe. The causes and symptoms of bunionettes are comparable to those of bunions, and treatment is similar.

Are You at Risk of Developing Bunions?

Since bunions are degenerative, it’s important to be aware of your own susceptibility to developing them. Aside from the presence of a large bump on the side of your toe, there are a few ways to tell if you are at risk. Certain factors, such as lifestyle choices, are controllable, and you can reduce your risk by making small changes. 

To determine whether you might develop bunions, knowing how they form is essential.

What Causes Bunions?

There are two general causes of bunions: lifestyle factors and medical factors. The more you know about your own medical history and how you care for your feet, the better you can assess if you are susceptible to developing bunions. 

Tight or Narrow Shoes

There’s a reason that women have a higher risk of developing bunions: high heels. Really, any narrow, toe-constricting shoe can increase the likelihood of a person developing bunions. The increased pressure on the toes and the narrow toe box causes the toes to become compressed, exacerbating the problem. 

Most bunions are formed from a muscle imbalance within the foot, causing it to flatten too much and the first MTP joint to start to misalign. Wearing unsupportive, narrow shoes can make this even worse.


Unfortunately, some people have a genetic predisposition to bunions. This is primarily due to the shape and structure of the feet. You may have a similar condition if your parents or grandparents have dealt with bunions. Everyone has a different foot shape: some have high arches, flat feet, or an in-toe or out-toe gait. Your natural foot shape and gait may place abnormal stress on the big toe joint, thus creating a higher risk for bunion development.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can make it more likely that you will develop bunions. Arthritis, especially inflammatory types such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a loss of mobility in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis in the MTJ joint may cause a lack of mobility, stiffness, and pain, which can cause you to alter your gait to accommodate it. An altered gait can then add pressure and result in a bunion. 

You may be more likely to develop bunions if you think you belong to one of these groups. You may also have unexplained foot pain that has not been diagnosed as a bunion. Be sure to contact your podiatrist if you suspect you are developing a bunion.

Early Signs of Bunions

At Chelsea Foot & Ankle, Dr. Ethan Ciment and his team are committed to providing comprehensive, conservative care for various podiatric concerns, including bunions. The sooner our team can assess your condition, the sooner you can get treatment. 

For at-home assessment, the following symptoms may help you understand if you have a bunion.

  • A bump or bulge forming at the base of your big toe
  • Pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling around the joint of your big toe
  • Corns or calluses where the big toe rubs against the second toe 
  • Reduced mobility in the big toe

Unfortunately, most people are unaware they are developing a bunion until it becomes painful to walk or wear certain shoes. Most bunions do not become physically apparent until the base of the joint has protruded to a noticeable extent or it has become red and painful. Another symptom may be pain around the big toe when walking.

If you feel an unfamiliar pain in your big toe, keep an eye on it for a few days and think over your likelihood of developing bunions, then call your doctor.

What Are My Bunion Treatment Options?

When caught early, bunions can be treated conservatively, i.e., without surgery. During your consultation at Chelsea Foot & Ankle, your podiatrist will listen to your concerns and symptoms before examining your foot to determine the necessary treatment for your bunion. 

At Chelsea Foot & Ankle, our doctors are with you every step of the way. They will take your medical history, listen to your concerns, and perform all diagnostic and imaging tests. Then, they will create a treatment plan that best addresses your condition.

Depending on the severity of your bunion, your doctor may recommend a conservative approach to bunion treatment. But in more advanced cases, bunion removal surgery may be necessary.

Conservative Approach

For non-surgical bunion treatments, you may be offered a few options. You may be given protective pads to cushion the joint to alleviate pain and provide better support to the MTP joint. You will also be required to swap your footwear for more comfortable shoes. 

Alternatively, custom orthotics can be made at Chelsea Foot & Ankle to correct the over-flattening of the foot that often causes bunions. Orthotics can also help realign the front of the foot so that the MTP joint and big toe can function properly and painlessly. 

In mild to moderate cases, these non-invasive treatments have been successful.

Surgical Approach

Each patient is different, so treatment is going to vary. In some cases, surgery is necessary to alleviate pain and restore functionality to the foot. There are dozens of bunion surgeries to address every concern, and your podiatrist will utilize the best approach for you. 

Bunion surgery or a bunionectomy is performed to realign the first MTP joint with the bones, ligaments, and tendons of your big toe, to create a normal alignment and restore comfort. Bunion surgeries are performed on an outpatient basis, using sedation and local anesthesia, with no hospital stay needed. 

Want to Learn More About Bunion Causes and Treatment in NYC?

If you think you have a bunion and want to get started on your diagnosis and treatment, call Chelsea Foot & Ankle today at (646) 929-4149 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced and compassionate NYC podiatrists. 

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