Do I Really Need Bunion Surgery?

by | Feb 3, 2020

It’s usually not happy news when someone is told they need surgery.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re highly accomplished foot and ankle surgeons here, and the procedures we perform (including bunion surgery) have extremely high success and patient satisfaction rates. If we recommend surgery, it usually means you truly do need it—and ultimately it’s going to be a major step in the right direction.

But all things considered, we’re guessing you’d probably rather avoid surgery if you possibly can. The good news is that we agree with you! If we think conservative care will be effective for your situation, we’ll absolutely pursue those avenues first.

And you might be surprised to learn that this goes for bunions, too! Although some advanced bunions do require surgical correction, many mild-to-moderate ones can be dealt with effectively through non-surgical care.

In this blog, we’ll spend a little time talking about how we determine when an individual bunion requires surgery and, if so, what you can expect from the process.

The Goal of Conservative Care

It’s important to clarify up front that there is no “cure” for bunions other than surgery. Once the bump has formed on your foot, it’s not going away or getting smaller. So if you were wondering if you could restore the shape of your foot without surgery, the answer is unfortunately no.

So what is the goal of conservative care, then? Well, it may not be able to make the bump go away, but it often can make the pain go away. And in many cases, you can slow down the rate that the bunion gets worse, or even stop the progression completely.

If you can get rid of your pain and live your preferred lifestyle while skipping the surgical table, we’d consider that a win. (Most of our patients agree wholeheartedly.)

Conservative remedies may include: • Always wearing supportive shoe gear. • Wearing properly selected and fitted orthotics. • Applying non-medicated padding to reduce friction between the bunion and your shoes. • Strategies to manage temporary pain (ice, OTC medications, etc.). A cortisone shot may be provided if necessary.

How to Tell if You Need Surgery

Bunion surgery is elective. That means, ultimately, you are the one who gets to decide if and when to have it.

That said, we’re happy to provide our recommendations and guidance when it comes to making that determination. Although the exact point is different for every patient, surgery usually gets recommended if the following scenarios are true for you:

• The pain or mobility problems with your bunion are strong enough that they are either impacting your daily life, or preventing you from engaging in hobbies or activities that are important to you.

• You have tried all applicable conservative treatments and they have not been able to give you the relief you need and deserve.

If those two boxes are checked, chances are we’re going to highly recommend bunion surgery as your best way forward.

What You Can Expect from Bunion Surgery

We want to repeat what we said earlier: we are pros at this. Bunion surgery has an extremely high success rate, especially when patients are diligent about following their follow-up care instructions.

We’ll carefully evaluate your condition in order to develop a surgical plan. There are several different procedures we can potentially use, depending on both the severity of your bunion and your ongoing lifestyle goals.

For most people, the surgery involves cutting and realigning the affected foot bones (osteotomy), then repairing or transferring the supporting tendons to keep the repaired joint in place. Internal fixture hardware (such as pins or screws) may be necessary to hold everything stable during the healing process.

However, other situations may call for different procedures, such as cleaning joint surfaces or even fusing joints (arthrodesis). We’ll of course talk through all your options carefully so you have a complete understanding of the procedure and the range of potential outcomes.

Post-surgery, you can expect to be under limited weightbearing conditions for at least a couple of weeks. We’ll typically provide you with a cast or walking boot to protect your foot in the meantime.

Here’s a basic timeline, though keep in mind that exact recovery times can vary from person to person:
• For 2-3 days after surgery, avoid weight bearing. Keep your foot elevated, use an ice pack, and take medications as directed to help keep discomfort to a minimum. Follow our schedule carefully for changing your dressings.
• Usually by about the two-week mark, you’ll come back to get the sutures out and we’ll evaluate the healing process so far.
• By about 6 weeks, most people are able to get out of their cast or walking boot and back into regular shoes, although you may not be fully cleared for things like running or sports yet.
• Full healing may take a few more months. Swelling will continue to gradually decrease, and you’ll be cleared for more and more vigorous physical activity. We’ll check in with you for follow up visits until we’re confident you’ve made a complete recovery.

Don’t worry—we’ll be guiding you throughout the process, with instructions on things like how to change your dressings, when you can perform certain activities or exercises, and what to keep an eye out for.

One thing that many of our patients ask is how long they will be off work. This, again, will vary from person to person. It depends on both how quickly you recover and your job responsibilities. Some people can go back to office jobs after two weeks (or even earlier if you can work from home), but if your job requires a lot of standing or walking and you can’t go on light duty, it may be longer. We’d be happy to talk with you in depth about how much time off you may require at your appointment.

Don’t Delay—Make the Call Today

One thing we need to emphasize:
The sooner you get your bunion looked at by a professional, the less likely you’ll need to have surgery. If we intervene with conservative care when the bunion is still small and not getting in the way of your day-to-day, there’s a great chance that we can keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

So what are you waiting for? You can reach our office at (814) 472-2660, or leave us a message using our contact form. If you chose the latter, a member of our office staff will follow up with you during our normal office hours.