Surgery in general—and foot surgery in particular—can inspire a lot of anxiety in patients who may be considering it, or are worried that they might need it.
So, to help put you at ease, we’ll start by saying this:
Bunion reconstruction is one of the most common surgical procedures we perform here at Carmel Foot Specialists. It’s highly safe overall, and the vast majority of patients are happy with the results. If we recommend it to you, you can feel comfortable and confident about choosing it.
That being said, we’re guessing you probably have many more questions. That’s okay! Bunion surgery can be a tremendously positive, life-changing event for many long-suffering patients. But it also isn’t for everyone.
If you have a bunion and you’re not sure which way to turn yet, please read on.
Do I Even Really Need Bunion Surgery?
Quite possibly not!
To be more specific: bunions should always be treated somehow. If you completely ignore them, and take no steps to manage your condition, they will get worse and will eventually make you miserable. It’s just that surgery isn’t always a necessary or even preferred component of the recommended treatment course.
Generally speaking, surgery is an option we would begin to explore only if your bunion is moderate to severe, causing you daily pain, and/or preventing you from enjoying specific activities that are important to you. Even then, you may still benefit from attempting conservative remedies first.
In other words, the earlier you seek our help after you notice your big toe drifting out of alignment, the better your odds of skipping out on surgery entirely. (Far too many people don’t realize this until it’s far too late. The lesson, as always: don’t put off seeing the doctor!)
What Are the Alternatives to Surgery?
So if your bunion is on the mild side, we’ll evaluate the primary contributing causes and then make some recommendations. To be clear, your bunion isn’t “going away” without surgery. But if non-surgical treatments can take the pain away and let you live the way you want to live, there’s no need to take a more aggressive approach.
Some of the most common recommendations include:
- Wider shoes. Toes need room to wiggle in every direction, and you don’t want shoes pinching or rubbing on them, let alone the bump on the side of your foot.
- A soft bunion pad can help protect your feet from painful friction and pressure caused by rubbing against the inside of the shoe. Just make sure the pads are non-medicated.
- Toe splints / spacers. These are wearable inserts that help keep your big toe properly aligned, and not rubbing painfully against the neighboring toes.
- Orthotic inserts. In many cases, bunions are initially triggered by a fundamental imbalance or structural problem with your feet themselves. Wearing appropriate orthotics can not only alleviate pain, but also slow down the rate at which your bunion progresses.
What Can I Expect from Surgery?
Let’s say your bunion is moderate to severe, interfering with your daily life or your favorite activities, and conservative treatment approaches have either failed or are not recommend. If this is the case, we will probably recommend surgery as your best option.
You might be surprised to learn that there is no one “bunion surgery” that applies to every situation. In fact, there are more than 100 different types or procedures that are still used across the country!
But not to fear. Our experienced foot surgeons are highly trained in a variety of different procedures, including several advanced techniques. One example is the Lapidus bunionectomy, which has a couple of key advantages over more traditional surgeries, including better anatomical realignment of the metatarsal, a lower recurrence rate, and the ability to bear weight immediately after surgery for most patients.
Regardless of the procedure or set of procedures that are selected, bunion surgeries are almost always performed as an outpatient procedure. A form of local anesthetic called a Mayo block is used to make your foot completely numb during the procedure. General anesthesia or IV (“twilight sleep”) is also typically used.
You’ll be able to go home the same day as your procedure, though (obviously) you’ll need someone to drive you home.
How Long Will I Be Recovering from Bunion Surgery?
We hope you understand that we don’t want to make too many promises in a blog, since the truth is that recovery times can vary quite a bit depending on a number of factors, including the severity of your bunion, the type of procedures that were used, your health, your age, whether you smoke, how well you follow your recovery guidelines, etc.
That being said, most bone healing will occur within a few weeks of your surgery. In the first couple of days after surgery, try to keep your foot elevated as much as possible to reduce swelling. In some cases, you’ll be able to walk immediately using a tough CAM walker, but other procedures may require a week or two off your feet.
(We’re not trying to be vague here. When we discuss surgical options with you in person, we’ll be able to paint a much clearer picture of what we expect for your specific case.)
The amount of time you’ll need to take off from work also varies depending not only on the results of the procedure, but the kind of work you do. Some people with desk jobs may take a week or less off. Those with more active occupational responsibilities may need more time off, or to be put on light duty for a short period of time.
It would be fair to say that it takes most people an average of about 6-8 weeks to feel like they’re fully back to speed after surgery. By the 2-month mark, most people are back in their normal shoes, performing all their normal activities. That said, complete healing after surgery (as in, no more residual pain or swelling) can take up to 4-6 months.
We won’t lie—recovery isn’t always the most fun experience. But you know what also isn’t fun? Living with bunion pain every day. In the long run, a few weeks of discomfort is just a blip on the radar when it’s followed by many years of pain-free, active living!
So, are you thinking that bunion surgery might be right for you? Or perhaps that conservative treatment options will do the trick?
Either way, the last thing you want to do is put off seeing a specialist. The team at Carmel Foot Specialists will get you the answers and the treatment you need! Just call (704) 334-8682 to reach our office in Myers Park, or (704) 542-8253 for South Charlotte.