Bunion vs. Bone Spur

Bunions and bone spurs are bony projections that can develop in the foot, often leading to pain and discomfort. While they might sound similar and sometimes be used interchangeably by the layperson, they are distinctly different conditions, each with its own causes, symptoms, and treatment options. A bunion typically forms at the base of the big toe, causing it to deviate outward, whereas a bone spur can form anywhere on the foot, resulting from the growth of extra bone.

What is Bunion?

A bunion is a protruding bony lump that emerges at the joint base of the big toe. It develops when bones in the front section of the foot misalign. This misalignment causes the big toe’s tip to incline towards the lesser toes, making the joint at the big toe’s base protrude. The overlying skin on the bunion may become inflamed and tender.

Factors like wearing constrictive, slim-fitting shoes can contribute to the formation or exacerbation of bunions. Additionally, inherent foot shapes, other foot abnormalities, or conditions like arthritis can be some other causes of Bunion. Bunionettes are smaller bunions that form on the little toe’s joint. When a bunion forms, the big toe’s tip leans towards the other toes, pushing them aside. This action also results in the pronounced bulge at the base of the big toe.

Potential symptoms of Bunion

  • Inflamed, coarse skin on the inner side at the base of the big toe.
  • A prominent bone protrusion at the initial toe joint, accompanied by reduced motion in that area.
  • Discomfort over the joint, exacerbated by shoe pressure.
  • The big toe deviates outwards, possibly overlapping the second toe. This can lead to the formation of corns and calluses where these two toes meet.
  • Challenges in comfortably wearing standard shoes.

Causes of Bunion

  • Some people inherit feet that are more susceptible to developing bunions due to their shape and structure. 
  • Tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes can push the toes together, which might encourage bunion development. 
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis condition can increase the risk of bunion development due to changes in joint health.
  • Family history can play a role in the cause. If other family members have had bunions, you may be more likely to develop them.
  • An injury or trauma to the foot, especially if it impacts the big toe, can lead to bunion formation.
  • Some people are born with foot anomalies that make them more prone to developing bunions.

What is Bone Spur?

A bone spur, often referred to as an osteophyte, is a smooth bony growth extending from a bone. These growths typically form over extended periods, predominantly around joints where multiple bones come together. While individuals aged 60 and above are more frequently affected by bone spurs, bone spurs can also appear in younger populations. Those diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA) have a high risk of developing bone spur. OA represents a widespread type of arthritis resulting from the gradual deterioration of cartilage that acts as a buffer for the bones.

Even though bone spurs can emerge from any bone in the body, they are notably prevalent in the following areas:

  • Foot, specifically around the heel, as well as the big toe and ankle.
  • Fingers or the hand.
  • Hip region.
  • Knee.
  • Neck area.
  • Shoulder.
  • Along the spine.

Potential symptoms of Bone Spur

  • Protrusions or raised areas, notably on the fingers or toes.
  • A feeling of numbness or weakness, particularly in the legs, when the spine is affected by spurs.
  • Discomfort around the impacted joint, such as pain in the heel.
  • A limited range of joint movement.
  • Rigidity in the joint.
  • Inflammation of a close tendon, known as tendinitis.
  • Tears in tendons, like a tear in the rotator cuff of the shoulder.

Causes of Bunion

Bone spurs, medically known as osteophytes, predominantly form as a result of joint damage due to osteoarthritis (OA). OA signifies the degeneration of cartilage, which is the flexible tissue acting as a protective cushion between bones, facilitating smoother joint movements. This wear and tear of cartilage is commonly a consequence of aging, but it can also result from specific damages like sports-related injuries.

In an attempt to mend the deteriorating cartilage, the body instigates the production of new bone material, leading to the formation of osteophytes. Another condition associated with the development of bone spurs is ankylosing spondylitis. This relatively rare form of arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the spine. As it progresses, ankylosing spondylitis can cause fusion of the vertebrae. To counter this fusion, the body produces spinal osteophytes as a defensive response.

Difference Between Bunion Vs. Bone Spur

Bunions and bone spurs, while both related to bony growths in the body, present distinct characteristics and implications. A bunion is defined as a bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe due to joint misalignment. This protrusion, typically visible on the foot’s side near the big toe, is primarily caused by factors such as genetics, improper footwear, foot structure, and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Common symptoms of a bunion include pain, redness, soreness, a pronounced protrusion, and difficulty wearing shoes. Treatment for bunions can range from orthotics and padding to exercises, footwear modifications, and, in severe cases, surgery.

On the other hand, a bonе spur is a smooth growth that еxtеnds from any bonе in thе body. Unlike bunions that are spеcifically locatеd at thе basе of thе big toе, bonе spurs can dеvеlop in various placеs, such as thе hееls, spinе, hips, shouldеrs, and fingеrs. Their formation is commonly attributed to ostеoarthritis, gеnеral wеar and tеar, aging, and joint damagе. Symptoms can include pain, movеmеnt rеstriction, and inflammation, though thеy can somеtimеs bе asymptomatic. Similar to bunions, treatment options include exercises, orthotics, mеdications, and surgery if the condition becomes sеvеrе.

While bunions are often linked to rheumatoid arthritis, bone spurs are commonly associated with osteoarthritis and conditions like ankylosing spondylitis. In essence, understanding the differences between these two conditions is vital for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Bunion Vs. Bone Spur 

Attribute    Bunion Bone Spur  
Definition A bony bump formed at the base of the big toe due to joint misalignment.A smooth growth extending from a bone.
Common Location Base of the big toe. Heels, spine, hips, shoulders, fingers. 
Primary Causes  Genetics, improper footwear, foot structure, rheumatoid arthritis.  Osteoarthritis, wear and tear, aging, joint damage.
Typical SymptomsPain, redness, soreness, visible protrusion, difficulty in shoe wear.Pain, movement restriction, inflammation, sometimes asymptomatic.
Treatment Options Orthotics, padding, footwear changes, exercises, surgery (in severe cases). Exercises, orthotics, medications, surgery (in severe cases).
Relation to ArthritisLinked to rheumatoid arthritis.Commonly associated with osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. 
Physical Appearance Protruding bump on foot’s side near the big toe. Smooth bony growth on any bone. 


Bunion Treatment

To manage and potentially reverse bunion development, a combination of exercises and orthotics can be utilized, often eliminating the need for surgical intervention. Bunion pads and specially tailored footwear can help in reducing the stress exerted on the forefoot and affected toe. It’s essential to choose shoes that provide ample space for toes and the forefoot. Shoes with narrow toe boxes and rigid soles can exacerbate bunion-related discomfort.

Bone Spur Treatment

Addressing bone spurs typically involves a mix of exercises, orthotics, and medications to control pain and inflammation. The surrounding soft tissue of the bone spur can become inflamed, so alleviating pressure on this tissue can mitigate symptoms. Custom orthotics, designed to offload pressure around the inflamed region, can significantly reduce discomfort. 

For advanced bone spur cases where conservative treatments don’t provide adequate relief, surgery might be proposed by healthcare professionals. After surgical removal of the spur, a patient might need to stay off their feet and wear a supportive walking boot for some time. it might be required to use crutches and wear a supportive boot for an extended period, typically between 2 to 4 weeks. 


Bunions and bone spurs, though both involve bony growths on the foot, are distinct conditions with separate causes and manifestations. A bunion is characterized by the outward deviation of the big toe, leading to a noticeable bulge on its base, where bonе spurs can emerge anywhere on the foot due to extra bone growth, often as a reaction to pressure, friction, or strеss. Recognizing the differences between these two conditions is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

By Caitlyn

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