Bunions are among the most common causes of painful toes. A bunion is a misalignment of the bones in the foot. This occurs when something causes the big toe to turn inward, bending toward (or even under) the other toes. The medical term for bunion—hallux valgus deformity—is a literal description of the condition. “Hallux” is Latin for big toe, “valgus” is Latin for misalignment.
A bunionette is a similar condition that affects the base of the baby toe. It is sometimes called a “tailor’s bunion,” because tailors once sat cross-legged all day, with the outer sides of their feet rubbing on the ground.
Bunions plague more than half of all American women, and a quarter of men. They are twice as common among people over age 60, compared with younger adults.Bunions and bunionettes can result from heredity, arthritis, or misalignment of the foot. But the most frequent cause is wearing shoes that squeeze the toes into pointy or narrow toe boxes, forcing the toes to fold over one another to fit in.
Neither condition may cause any pain at first, but you might notice that you have developed a bump on the side of your foot, or that it’s harder to put on tight shoes. In time, a bunion or bunionette can become extremely painful.