Although bunions are unsightly, they’re more than just an aesthetic inconvenience. They can also be very uncomfortable.
As Erica Roth at Healthline describes it, “Your big toe points excessively towards your second toe when you have a bunion.”
When the toe’s soft tissue, bone and joints have become malformed, this visibly affects the big toe, creating a bunion. Because of all those structural changes, pain and discomfort can naturally follow.
Here is everything on bunion surgery Chicago residents should know.
Do You Need Bunion Surgery?
This problem often doesn’t correct itself. Although bunions are often attributed to improper shoe choices, switching to better-fitting shoes can’t reverse bunions once they develop.
Certain medications such as anti-inflammatories and steroids can potentially help, says Mark Landsman at Foot Vitals. However, these treatments may not be effective.
If the pain and discomfort noticeably affect your quality of life, it’s time to look into surgery.
What Does Bunion Surgery Entail?
Depending on the type of bunion surgery, the procedure can differ. Extend Orthotics in New York explains the various types:
- Resection arthroplasty — This procedure is reserved for those with the most deformed bunions. Arthritis sufferers are typically eligible for this surgery. During a resection arthroplasty, a surgeon will reshape the joint so it moves more naturally.
- Arthrodesis — If a patient has tried other bunion treatments without success, sometimes even other surgeries, arthrodesis may be the answer. This procedure involves removing a joint’s surfaces and fusing it together. The joint is immobilized, but it can greatly reduce or even eliminate pain.
- Ligament or tendon repair — This less-intensive procedure can curtail minor bunions and prevent them from causing more damage. The surgeon will target the tissue causing the bunion, readjusting it to cause less pressure on the joint.
- Re+Line Bunion Correction System — As Extend Orthotics writes, the Re+Line Bunion Correction System “uses a low-profile tension band compression plate to reposition and stabilize the big toe joint. …It has a low profile so it can’t be seen or felt, but because it remains in the foot, it reduces the likelihood of the bunion recurring.”
Now that you know what to expect surgically, just what is bunion surgery post op like? Here are the recovery steps you should take after your operation.
1. Rest as Long as Prescribed
You will wake up in the hospital after the operation mostly immobilized. You will have to spend considerable time off your feet. “Your recovery time will depend on the procedure you received, the type of fixation utilized, and other patient factors,” Foot Vitals’ Marks Landsman says.
On the shorter end of the spectrum, expect to rest for at least for eight weeks. Some may have to take it easy for four months or more, Healthline’s Erica Roth says.
While resting, especially right after surgery, New Health Advisor recommends you ice often. Also, use pillows, a sling or another means to raise the foot. After two weeks, you may be able to get out of bed and use crutches. However, every case is different, so don’t rush the process.
New Health Advisor notes that within four weeks some patients can switch from a boot (more on this below) back to their own sneakers. However, with more severe bunions or intensive surgeries, this may not be the case. Some patients are able to drive themselves around at this time, as well.
Before returning to work, it’s advised to talk to your podiatrist or surgeon. However, those who have office jobs where they mostly sit can generally work again after six weeks.
Again, just to reiterate, this is a basic timeline all patients will not follow. Depending on the type of surgery, you may recover faster or need more time. Checking in with your podiatrist or surgeon will ensure the healing is progressing as it should.
2. Keep the Bandages On
Although it may not be within the first few days of bunion surgery post op recovery, eventually you will want to bathe. However, New Health Advisor cautions against this, especially within the first week of recovery, because “the risk of tissue loss and infection increases if your dressing becomes wet. In addition, you may slip or fall while taking a bath, increasing your risk of displacing and even breaking the bones in your foot.”
Landsman at Foot Vitals recommends taking it one step further and waiting two weeks to bathe.
Don’t touch the bandaging. “When discharged from the hospital, your foot will be in bandages, supporting your toe in the corrected position. Keeping your toe in this position is essential to healing,” New Health Advisor writes.
“…Don’t change or disturb your dressing without consulting with your doctor. Interference with the healing process can result in recurrence of the bunion. The stitches are normally removed two weeks after surgery but the dressing is required to support your foot for the next six to 12 weeks.”
3. Take Medication
Opioids and painkillers are common treatments after a bunion surgery, New Health Advisor says. The surgeon will write a prescription for one of these medications, but not both.
Doctors tend to be very conservative in prescribing such medicines because it’s very easy for patients to get addicted to them. Therefore, once the medication runs out, you will typically have to rely over-the-counter painkillers.
4. Wear a Boot
Another element of post bunion surgery care is wearing the right footwear. As mentioned, improper footwear choices could be what caused the bunions in the first place. You’ll start recovery with a surgical boot, Roth says, and it will be necessary to keep this on for at least two weeks. Just as with your bandages, keep this boot away from water.
The next step up from the boot is a brace, which will “support your foot while you heal,” Roth says. “You won’t be able to bear weight on your foot at first, and you’ll need crutches for assistance. Gradually, you can start putting some weight on your foot, using a walker or crutches for support.”
5. Check in with Your Podiatrist
From the moment you go home after your operation to the weeks and months to follow, you will need to be in contact with your podiatrist. Expect many appointments.
New Health Advisor says the first appointment may occur as soon as a week after the surgery. “You will have a post-surgery check-up and get your dressing changed,” they advise. “You may be required to have an X-ray in case pins, screws or plates have been used.”
Your podiatrist will take the stitches out and check how the foot is healing by the second week. You may want to see the podiatrist again in the weeks to come if you have any questions about your recovery.
If you’ve noticed your foot is swollen months after the operation, don’t panic. New Health Advisor says “slight swelling may continue for a year after surgery.”
Physical therapy during the healing process can help you gradually get back into shape while aiding in their recovery. Your podiatrist will decide whether you need physical therapy.
Overall, the majority of patients who receive bunion surgery get back to a normal life free of the discomfort and pain associated with bunions. However, remember that bunion surgery isn’t preventative; bunions can recur if you continue to wear shoes that don’t fit. If you have questions, ask your podiatrist how to avoid future bunions.