“Do I need surgery for my bunion?”
It’s a common question in our offices, and although we can’t tell you “yes” or “no” through your computer screen (technology may have improved, but we still need to see your feet!), we can take a little time to explain when a bunion or bunionette might call for surgicalintervention, and what you might be able to expect during and after the operation.
Although we generally reserve bunion surgery for the toughest cases and strongly recommend you exhaust conservative options first, in some cases the aggressive approach is right choice. If you’ve tried non-invasive treatments and found them ineffective, or your pain is so severe that it prevents you from performing daily tasks or enjoying treasured hobbies or activities, it may be time to consider the knife.
What Kind of Surgical Procedures Exist?
Just as there are many types of feet and many different forms or shapes that bunions and bunionettes can take, there are many potential surgical procedures. Below are some common scenarios:
Bunions and bunionettes are often caused by ligament imbalances that pull the toe out of alignment. Often those ligaments can be rebalanced, tightened or loosened as needed. This procedure is frequently performed alongside another (particularly osteotomies), but in some cases may be used by itself.
If you catch the problem after the bump forms, but before the toe begins to drift, we may select an exostectomy, also known as a bunionectomy. The enlarged portion of metatarsal head is removed, but otherwise bones are not cut or realigned.
If the bunion or bunionette is a little further along with more drifting of the toe, we may select an osteotomy. In this procedure, bones are cut and realigned into their normal, natural position.
Older patients and those suffering from arthritis may benefit most from resection arthroplasty. Here, portions of the damaged metatarsal head are removed and the joint is reshaped and resurfaced to provide normal functioning.
In particularly severe cases, we may recommend a fusion of one or more joints. This will typically require the use of wires and screws, and it does mean that the fused joint will no longer bend as it used to, although most people adapt very quickly.
How Long Will I Be Off My Feet?
This is the big question for many, and the answer depends on many things, including the surgical procedure, your age and health status, and how well you follow post-operative instructions, and how much rest you’re able to get. Minor procedures in young, healthy patients may in some cases be more or less fully healed after 6 weeks, while for others it may be 2 months before you can even bear weight on the foot.
What Does Recovery Look Like?
Again, it varies (see above), but in general, it’ll be 1-3 weeks before the stitches come out. During that time you will need to make sure the surgical site stays clean and dry, including keeping it covered while showering and bathing.
In the first few weeks following the operation, you will probably need to stay off your feet as much as possible. A cast, walking boot, or splint may be used to protect and immobilize the foot during this time. Most people can go back to wearing regular shoes after a month or so, but other procedures may require the use of special shoes for up to 2-4 months.
As the foot heals, you can gradually resume regular activities—for many this begins approximately 6-8 weeks out—but don’t push yourself and always remember to follow whatever instructions your doctor has for you.
Putting the Right Foot Forward
The most important thing to remember, aside from doctor’s orders, is not to give up or get discouraged! We know bunion surgery recovery can be a long, slow, painful, or even boring process, but when you can finally wear a normal pair of shoes again, or walk, run, and play again with your children or grandchildren, you’ll know it’s been worth it.
If you’ve been suffering from bunion or bunionette pain and you’re ready to discuss your options—whether surgery is necessary or not—give the experts and Family Foot and Ankle Center a call. We have six convenient Greater Cincinnati offices to serve you. Dial (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572 and set up an appointment today.