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Bunions and Bunionettes: What’s the Difference?

By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR

A bunion and a bunionette are both bone deformities that develop on the feet and can cause pain to affected people. While a bunion or a hallux vulgus is a deformity of the bone at the bottom of the big toe that causes the toe to turn in towards the smaller toes often overlapping with the second toe, a bunionette or a tailor’s bunion is a bony deformity at the base of the fifth metatarsal in the little toe. In some cases of bunion, the second toe is also deformed. Both conditions are most commonly experienced by women. Even though there are similarities in both conditions, there are a few key differences as well.

Position on the Foot

A bunion, also known as hallux vulgus, forms on the base of the joint of the big toe at the metatarsophalangeal joint on the outer edge of the foot. The big toe (hallux) only has two phalanx bones, a phalanx distal at the top followed by a phalanx proximal. The bunion occurs two joints down the top of the big toe where the metatarsal bone meets the big toe’s proximal phalanx bone. The metatarsal bone creates most of the bunion by sticking out at the top and forming a protrusion. The big toe points into the second toe when a bunion forms.

A bunionette forms on the opposite side of the foot right by the little toe on the foot. The little toe, in comparison to the big toe, has three phalanx bones so the bunionette forms three joints down the top of the toe on the outer side of the foot. The bone protrudes from the metatarsophalangeal joint. The little toe points into the fourth toe when a bunionette forms.

Size of the Deformity

A bunion can form a relatively large protrusion from the side of the foot because the biggest metatarsal bone is just below the big toe. In comparison the bunionette is formed by the protrusion of a much smaller metatarsal bone creating a smaller lump on the side of the foot.

Role of Genetics

Bunions tend to run in families, which suggests a genetic link in some people affected by the condition. There is a suggestion that some people with particularly flexible foot structures can develop the condition more easily and at times this flexibility can be passed down through the generations. However, many bunions can be formed due to shoes that irritate the structure of the foot.

Bunionettes, however, mostly appear to be the result of genetics. Although badly fitting shoes can aggravate the condition, it is unlikely that a tailor’s bunion is caused as commonly due to use of a type of footwear.

Frequency

People tend to get bunions more frequently than bunionettes.

Recovery time

The recovery time after surgery to remove a bunionette tends to be shorter than the time it takes to heal from a bunion surgery.

Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: May 31, 2016

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