How to prevent, relieve and find footwear for bunions October 18 2017

What do Amal Clooney, Victoria Beckham, Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez, Tilda Swinton, Katie Holmes and Catherine Zeta-Jones all have in common?

Apart from being some of the world’s most glamourous and successful women, they all have bunions. Look down from their stunning dresses to the catwalk and you’ll see the painful truth.

So, what is a bunion?

Not to sugar coat things, a bunion is a bony deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe, which causes an enlargement of the bone of tissue, in turn producing a lump on the side of the foot. The medical name is hallux valgus.

The main visible signs of a bunion are:

  • A swollen bony lump on the outside edge of the foot.
  • The big toe pointing in towards the other toes of the same foot.
  • Hard, callused and red skin where the big toe and second toe overlap.
  • Sore skin on the top of the bulge (bunion).
  • Difficulty finding shoes that fit due to the changed shape of the foot.

Anyone can get a bunion, men and women, young and old, although they’re more common in women than men, with more than 15% of women in the UK suffering from a bunion.

What causes bunions, can they be inherited?

The exact cause isn’t known, but there are several agreed likely causes.  

The main cause is thought to be wearing badly fitting shoes – which is good news as there are some easy steps (excuse the pun) that can be taken to help prevent bunions.

The not-so-good news is… bunions tend to run in families, and so may be hereditary.

Bunions can also occur in people with unusually flexible joints, which is why they sometimes occur in children. But again, you can take measures to help prevent them with the right footwear.

In some cases, health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout may also be responsible.

So in brief, the usual suspects are:

  • Genetics – it runs in the family (again, excuse the pun).
  • Badly fitting shoes – believed to be a contributory cause of bunions.
  • Arthritis – most notably rheumatoid arthritis, gout and psoriatic arthritis are believed to cause bunions, while conversely a bunion may be the cause of arthritis in a toe.
  • Other conditions and syndromes – conditions associated with loose ligaments, flexible joints and low muscle tone, such cerebral palsy and Marfan syndrome, could increase the chance of bunions forming.

Bunions are rare in populations that don’t wear shoes 

What can you do to prevent bunions?

Make sure you pick parents who don’t have bunions. OK not that feasible.

The next best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. This means footwear that’s not only the right size, but also the correct width and style to accommodate your own unique foot shape and condition.

Begin by getting your feet professionally measured each time you buy new shoes – feet and bunions change over time. Also go shopping later in the day – feet spread during the day and are likely to be bigger later in the day than in the morning.

Choose well-fitting shoes that:

  • Aren’t too pointy – shoes should have space for your big toe and allow your toes to move freely – if they’re too tight this can force your toes together, causing your big toe to remain in a bent position. The shoe can also rub against your big toe joint making an existing bunion worse. Women’s shoes in particular are renowned for this.
  • Have a slight heel – about an inch and a half is ideal. High heels push most of your body weight forwards onto the front of your foot, placing considerable strain on your toe joints. Surprisingly, flat shoes such as ballet pumps and flip-flops, can be just as much of a problem, causing the foot to splay out, which can also cause a bunion to form.
  • Yield to the shape of your foot – this can be a soft leather or a fabric that stretches.
  • Have a wide and deep toe box – allowing maximum comfort.
  • Have flexible fastenings – opt for laces, Velcro and elastic over restrictive fastenings such as metal buckles and tight straps.
  • Are extra wide – this allows the foot to be more comfortable without generating any pressure or discomfort around the big toe joint.
  • Have toe separators – such as sandals in warmer weather – these should still have a flexible sole.

Flat shoes such as ballet pumps and flip-flops, that cause the foot to splay out, can cause a bunion to form 

If you’re unsure about what footwear is best for you, seek advice from a trained shoe fitter – look out for signs that they are qualified or accredited by a body such as The Society of Shoe Fitters.  

How likely am I to develop bunions?

An easy test to see if you’re likely to develop bunions is to step out of the bath with wet feet, and look at the shape of the footprint you leave on the floor.

A crescent shaped footprint means you have normal arches, making bunions less likely. However, if the footprint looks like a pancake, you’ve flat feet and need to be more mindful of the footwear you choose – flatter feet have more of a tendency towards bunions.  

What can I do if I have bunions?

Having your feet properly measured and wearing well-fitting shoes is your number one goal for keeping your feet as comfortable as possible.

In addition, there are some practical measures you can take to ensure feet remain comfortable and bunions don't become worse.

  • Choose wide fitting shoes, that give your toes room to move and avoid putting pressure on tender joints.
  • Visit a podiatrist, who will examine your feet and give you expert advice. This may include over the counter remedies such as gels, bunion pads, splints to hold the toe in place or anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Use special insoles, known as orthotics. These are designed to make the foot move correctly, and can be inserted into shoes. When choosing new shoes, do ask if the insole can be replaced with an orthotic.
  • Have surgery, a last resort for severe cases. In 2013, there were 3,781 recorded hospital admissions in the UK for bunion surgery among men, and 29,258 admissions for women. According to NHS statistics, surgery improves symptoms in 85 per cent of cases.


But your easiest first step is to get your feet professionally measured and choose well made, well-fitting shoes. At Ellie Dickins Shoes, all of our store staff are qualified shoe fitters, and are here to help you find the most comfortable, best fitting footwear possible to suit your individual needs.


Other organisations you may want to visit for more information or support:

The Society of Shoe Fitters


The College of Podiatry

Logo for The College of Podiatry - source of some of our information  

NHS choices

NHS Choices logo  

Sources also include: