Do you have painful bunions that make everyday activities difficult?
Bunion surgery may be an option for you. Your doctor may recommend it if your bunions are impacting your daily life.
When it comes to bunion surgery recovery time, expect to be off your feet for a few weeks at a minimum. Although it’s tempting to get back to activity as soon as your foot is feeling better, it’s best to allow it to heal properly.
Here’s everything you need to know about bunion surgery, recovery, what to expect when going for surgery, and how to recuperate faster.
What is a Bunion?
A bunion is a bony growth that forms at the base of the joint of your big toe. This is caused by a misalignment of the big toe joint—the metatarsophalangeal or MTP joint—which causes the big toe to lean excessively towards your second toe.
Bunions develop over time. They change the structure of the bone and affect the surrounding soft tissue.
As the bunion develops, the bump on the outside of the big toe will get bigger and the skin around the area will become red. The skin may harden or appear to be thicker underneath the base of the joint.
What is Bunion Removal Surgery?
Bunion removal is a surgical procedure where the bony growth is removed, the bone is realigned and soft tissue is corrected.
This procedure is also sometimes referred to as a bunionectomy, hallux valgus correction, or bunion surgery.
There are different types of bunion surgery that can be used to bring the toe back to its natural alignment.
Your doctor may recommend that the bunion be removed if nonsurgical treatment methods haven’t relieved the pain.
The type of procedure that will be done depends on a number of factors, such as the severity of the bunion, the condition of the connective tissue and bones, age, overall health, and activity level.
These Scenarios Make You an Ideal Candidate for Bunion Surgery
If you’ve been considering having bunion surgery, then you may be an ideal candidate for the procedure if you experience one or more of the following:
- Daily tasks or everyday routines are hampered by pain
- You experience severe foot pain when walking just a few blocks
- The swelling and pain doesn’t subside with rest and medication
- You’re unable to bend or straighten the big toe
- The big toe has the potential to cross over or under other toes
- There’s no pain relief even though you’ve made changes in footwear
Even though bunions are progressive, the bump does grow slowly; don’t look to have bunion surgery to prevent the condition from worsening.
Rather, take steps to slow the progression of the bunion, keep track of any symptoms you may have, and consult with your podiatrist. This will also help to prevent additional foot conditions.
Before Getting Bunion Surgery
Your doctor will take x-rays of your affected foot, as this will allow them to diagnose the severity of the bunion. Based on their findings, your doctor will then recommend a treatment plan or the type of surgical procedure that’s needed to correct the bunion.
The doctor will discuss your overall health, activity levels, and other factors that could affect your recovery after surgery. This information may influence the type of surgical procedure that the surgeon chooses for you.
If you have any allergies or if you’re sensitive to any anesthetic agents, medicines, tape, or latex, mention this to your doctor upfront.
Different Types of Surgeries for Bunions
There are different surgical procedures that are used to correct bunions, as they vary in severity, size, and shape.
Although each surgical procedure is slightly different, they all correct the alignment of the bone and soft tissues around the big toe, providing pain relief.
A bunionectomy is also known as an exostectomy, and is used for mild deformities.
In this procedure, the doctor will shave the bony bump off of the outside of the big toe. The surgeon will also rearrange the tendons and ligaments—soft tissue repair—so that they support the big toe.
This procedure doesn’t realign the joint and it also doesn’t correct any hereditary or bone structure deformities that could have caused the bunion.
With bunion osteotomy, your surgeon will realign the joint by making small cuts in the bone. The bone and joint are then held in place with screws, pins, or plates to keep the toe in its proper alignment.
The surgeon may do minor surgery on loose joints and the surrounding tendons. This will help to support the big toe and keep it in alignment.
In severe bunion cases, the doctor may choose to do a bunion arthrodesis. This procedure will repair or replace the joint. The surgeon will trim and cut the joint surfaces so that the toe sits in its correct alignment.
Sometimes the doctor may have to add a small wedge so that the toe is properly aligned. The joint is then held together with screws or a small plate. The surgeon will correct the position of the tendons and ligaments.
If the damage to the bone is significant, then the surgeon may choose to replace the joint entirely.
How to Prepare for Bunion Surgery
Before your bunion surgery, your doctor will request either a blood test or a urine test so that they can rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Your doctor will go through any medication that you’re on, as you may have to stop taking certain medications—such as blood thinners—a few days before the surgery.
You’ll probably have to arrive one to two hours earlier before the scheduled operation. Even though the surgery can take between an hour to three hours, your doctor will recommend that you stop eating and drinking for a few hours before the procedure begins.
In most cases, bunion surgery is treated as an outpatient procedure as you’re given a local anesthetic. After a couple of hours in recovery, you’ll be released and you’ll need someone to drive you home after the procedure.
What Are the Risks or Complications of Bunion Surgery?
In most cases, bunion surgery is successful at easing the symptoms, but like with any surgical procedure, complications can happen.
Although this is rare, your surgeon will discuss the following risks with you:
- The bunion comes back—bunion recurrence
- Joint stiffness or ongoing pain in the big toe
- Infection after the bunion surgery
- Persistent inflammation
- Delayed or failed bone healing
- Nerve damage
By being aware of the risks and complications, you can identify early signs which will allow your doctor to treat you as soon as possible and prevent the symptoms from worsening.
Bunion Recovery May Look Something Like the Following
The recovery time after bunion surgery will vary from person to person. The type of surgery that was performed, how quickly you heal, their age, and how well you follow the post-surgical care will play a role in the length of the recovery period.
If you’ve had a surgical procedure for a severe bunion, then the recovery time you can expect may look something like this:
- Your foot will be in a surgical boot or cast for the first two weeks, which protects the foot
- Around 2 to 6 weeks of no or limited weight-bearing activity
- After 6 weeks, resume some activities like driving a car
- After 8 weeks, you should be able to wear your normal shoes—with spacious toe boxes
- The bones in your foot should be fully healed after 3 to 4 months
During the first 6 to 12 weeks, you may still need to use crutches when you walk or move around. You’ll be able to place weight on your foot during this time as long as you use the crutches for support. During this period, you should also start to regain foot function.
The swelling in the foot can last up to 9 months after the surgery but you should be able to return to your day-to-day activities, including training—as long as there’s no pain—after 3 to 4 months.
During your recovery time, your doctor may recommend that you see a physical therapist.
Your physical therapist will give you some strength exercises for both your foot and lower leg. This will help reduce stiffness, increase flexibility and it can correct muscle imbalances.
For the first week after your bunion surgery, you need to keep your foot elevated. If you experience throbbing in your foot, then you need to elevate it a little higher.
You can apply ice to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours, as this will help to reduce the swelling.
However, make sure that you keep your stitches dry and if need be change the dressing every few days. Your stitches should be removed within the second week after the surgery.
If your doctor gave you foot and toe exercises to do, make sure that you do them daily. This will help you to regain foot and toe mobility.
When you do move around the house, make sure that you support yourself with crutches or a cane. If you go to the store or you want to take a walk, then it would be best to use a knee scooter to help you get around.
Follow the doctor’s recommendation for any medications that you’ve been given after the surgery.
How Can I Prevent Bunions from Returning After Surgery?
There are steps you can take after the surgery to prevent bunions from developing again. The first step would be to change your footwear and avoid wearing shoes that have narrow toe boxes and are tight-fitting.
Women should avoid wearing high heel shoes that shift their body weight onto the ball of their foot, as this can cause a bunion to develop again.
Use orthotic devices, especially if you have a flat foot, as this can help to distribute your body weight evenly and provide additional support to your foot, which can prevent a recurrence.
Do stretching exercises for the foot and the lower leg, especially if your bunion was caused by tight calf muscles. Continue to include strength exercises for the feet and toes, as this will help to keep your toe in its natural position.