The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Common Foot Ailments: Is it a Bunion or a Bone Spur?

Posted by on Monday, May 11th, 2015


Bunions are a surprisingly common foot ailment, with literature suggesting that they affect about 23% of the adult (18-65 years old) population. Among the elderly (65 years and older), more than a third of the population presents with bunions at their local podiatrist offices. Given their prevalence, it’s understandable that when a patient comes in with a big bump on his or her toe, they assume they’re dealing with a bunion. But be careful, not all bumps are bunions! The bumps that people mistake for bunions frequently turn out to be something else entirely— something called a bone spur! At The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC, we have all the diagnostic tools necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and set you on a successful course of treatment.

bunion bone spur
Bunions and bone spurs are not the same! Image Source:

Distinguishing between a bunion and a bone spur

A bunion is defined as “a structural change in the foot, resulting in a bone deformity at the great toe joint.” Symptoms include redness, pain, swelling, and restricted toe movement. These symptoms are usually accompanied by a firm bump on the outside edge of the big toe or the small toe (which is referred to as a “tailor’s bunion”). While the precise cause of bunions is unknown, it is thought that they are the result of a combination of genetics, abnormal motion, pressure, and shoe choice. Most podiatrists believe bunions stem from the way a person walks.

At first glance, bone spurs look a lot like bunions. Only an x-ray will clearly show the difference. If your x-ray shows a thickening of the bone in your foot, then you probably have a bone spur, especially if the thickening occurs in combination with a tendency toward joint damage and osteoarthritis. As the bony protrusion gets thicker, the neighboring bone hits against it, causing painful bruising. A bone spur may go unnoticed for years, at least until the patient presents with pain and swelling occur. Unlike bunions, bone spurs do not necessarily occur on the outer side of the great toe or baby toe. Bone spurs are more frequently noted along the top of the toe as well, so this is another way you might potentially tell the difference between the two conditions. A physical breakdown of cartilage is the most common cause of bone spurs, which the body creates by attempting to fill the gap from the lost tissue.

Are bunions and bone spurs treated differently?

There are 100 ways to treat a bunion surgically, depending on the severity and nature of the affected region. However, we think it wise to begin with more conservative treatments, especially if the bunion is detected early or is not causing any pain. Bunion pads can offer soft cushioning when worn in shoes with deep toe boxes. Applying ice and avoiding problematic high heels can alleviate a lot of the suffering. In the office, we can administer cortisone shots for pain relief.

Bone spurs may be treated with custom orthotic insoles that alter the motion in the joint. Stiff-soled shoes are also often recommended. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the pain. In the office, we may use an amniotic gel injection to help heal early cartilage damage. For more advanced cases, the joint may need to be remodeled or replaced, surgically.

New Yorkers choose Dr. Josef J. Geldwert for bunion and bone spur treatment

Dr. Josef J. Geldwert has been treating bunions and bone spurs for more than 40 years and has experience working with Olympic and professional athletes as well as everyday patients. Dr. Geldwert brings a professional and caring demeanor that comforts his patients. From one of his patients: “I have heard so many stories of post surgical pain, needing a scooter to get around, using the outmoded method of placing temporary pins in hammer toes. Dr. Geldwert understands athletes, uses the best procedures, and has a gentle hand with his knife.” Why settle for a general podiatrist, when you can see a true specialist? Contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine to be treated without delay. We have an office in Manhattan and another in White Plains, for your convenience.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.