Stiffness, swelling and tenderness in your big toe. Increasing irritation where your shoes rub against your big and pinky toes. A possible lump forming on your big toe joint. Do all signs point to a bunion?

Bunions are one of the most common foot conditions among adults. In fact, it’s estimated that around one-third of adults have bunions.

If you’re trying to figure out if a bunion is causing your foot pain, here we share common bunion symptoms and signs to look for, and what to do about the pain you’re feeling.

What is a bunion?

A bunion is a growth or deviation of bone or tissue around the joint of your big toe. In some cases, a pinky toe can also develop a bunion.

How do you know if you have a bunion?

Bunions form slowly over time, usually years. A podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in foot and ankle conditions, can provide an official diagnosis. But here are some bunion signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for.

Early signs of bunions

Since bunions grow slowly, they may not be visible in the early stages. Instead, you might experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or tenderness in your big toe or foot
  • Swelling or redness around your big toe joint
  • Red, irritated or warm-to-the-touch skin around your big toe joint
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion in your big toe or foot

  • A bump or lump on the side of your big toe
  • Your big toe is turned in or at an angle, maybe even overlapping the toe next to it
  • Thickened skin at the base of the toe
  • Calluses or corns on the first or second toes, which develop when your toes rub against each other

What does bunion pain feel like?

Bunion pain can feel different for everyone. It can range from mild to severe, and it can be constant or only flare up sometimes. You might feel throbbing bunion pain at night in your big toe, or pain that extends into the ball of your foot throughout the day. You could also experience shooting pain if swelling in your toe joint is pressing against a nerve.

If your big toe is turned in and crowding the toe next to it, you may experience pain in multiple areas. (This turning in can also lead to a hammertoe, another painful condition.)

There may also be pain where the actual bunion growth sticks out from the rest of your foot and rubs against the side of your shoe.

What causes bunions?

The exact cause of bunions isn’t clear, but there are several contributing factors that all have something in common: they put pressure on the big toe joint.

The shape of your foot, the shoes you wear and how you walk can all put pressure on your big toe joint, and this pressure may gradually push the toe out of alignment, creating a bunion.

How are bunions treated?

The best treatment for a bunion anywhere on your foot is prevention. Wearing the right footwear (and avoiding very high heels), strengthening your feet and monitoring them for any changes are all ways to help prevent bunions.

But the good news is once a bunion is diagnosed, there are several ways to relieve bunion pain and help slow its progression. A combination of home remedies such as cold and hot therapy, lifestyle tweaks and assistive devices like bunion pads can all be a big help.

If a bunion begins to cause an increasing amount of pain and starts to impact a person’s daily life, bunion removal surgery may be an option.

The first step in bunion treatment is to get an official diagnosis from a podiatrist so you can work on a treatment plan together.

Think you have a bunion? Here’s what you should do next

No matter what may be causing your foot pain, don’t just tough it out. Make an appointment with a podiatrist.

Podiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating foot and ankle conditions. They’ll be able to confirm whether a bunion is growing or if you might be experiencing another foot problem such as osteoarthritis, gout or corns.