What Is a Bunionette?

Is a bunionette the same thing as a bunion, only smaller?

If you don’t know what a bunionette is, you are not alone. Whether you are afflicted with one or not, you undoubtedly know what a bunion is. These swollen, red, and often very painful protrusions along the side of the big toe are all too familiar. But, a bunionette? Is that just a small bunion waiting to grow?

Webster tells us that adding the suffix, -ette, to a word implies that it is a “little one” version of something. A bunionette is like a little bunion when it comes to pathology: although smaller than a typical bunion, it is a bony protuberance that is red, swollen, and painful. Other than size, what mainly differentiates a bunionette from a bunion is location. Bunions develop on the joint that is located at the base of the big toe. Bunionettes pop out on the other side of the foot where the fifth metatarsal bone meets the little toe.

One other difference between bunions and bunionettes is that bunions are very common. Here in the U.S., there are more women who have bunions than there are those who don’t. Because bunions are caused by pressure on the bone, the reason that so many women have them is believed to be the type of shoes that they have traditionally worn. High heels and narrow toes could have been the answer to “how can we create a bunion?” Men also suffer from bunions but their numbers are not nearly as high as women’s.

The bunionette, on the other hand, is fairly rare, which helps explain why not everyone has heard of them. While 40 percent or more of the population have bunions, only about 4 percent are affected by a bunionette. 

More Commonly Known as Tailor’s Bunions

Previous generations were more likely to be familiar with bunionettes, they’ve just been calling them tailor’s bunions. Before machines and, more recently, computers took over doing so much of what was traditionally done by hand, tailors would work on their projects while sitting in a cross-legged position on the floor. This meant that the outer edges of their feet would touch the floor and, as the tailor moved around, the little toe, in particular, would be pressed against the hard surface of the floor. Pressure on the bone is what causes additional bony growth. In this situation, the bump that formed at the base of the little toe became known as a tailor’s bunion. Today, we call it a bunionette. 

Causes for Developing a Bunionette

A bunionette caused by a working tailor would be a rare occurrence today, but there are other factors responsible for their development. Poorly fitting shoes or those that are too tight or have high heels can contribute to bunionettes the same as they do bunions. Some of the other possible causes are:

  • Hereditary issues, like an inverted foot that leans to the outside or looser than normal ligaments
  • Injury to ligaments in the foot
  • Issue with the position of the fifth metatarsal bone in the little toe
  • Prolonged tightness or a lot of tension in the lower leg muscles

If you have questions about a bunionette or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with Ortho-Care Wayne in Bergen County New Jersey and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC.

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