Thinking About Bunion Surgery? Read This First

Bunions don’t just look funny – they can cause you a lot of pain and limit your ability to be active. If you have a bunion, you might be wondering what you can do to treat it, and when or if you should consider surgery.

It’s always recommended to try conservative approaches to relieving your bunion pain first. Below is a list of treatment options that you can try. If they don’t help you, it may be time to talk to your doctor about surgery.

What Is a Bunion and How Do People Get Them?

A bunion is a bump at the base of your big toe joint. A bunion forms when your big toe pushes against your other toes causing your big toe joint to get larger and stick out.

Bunions are genetic because people inherit the shape and structure of their feet. But, they can also come from or be worsened by poorly fitting shoes that force your toes into an unnatural position.

Women are nine times more likely than men to have bunions because many women wear shoes that are too tight, or that have a very narrow toe box.

Conservative Treatment Options

Before you think about having surgery on your bunion, try these treatment options:

  • Wear shoes with a wider toe box to decrease the pressure on your big toe. Athletic shoes, sandals, and shoes made of soft materials can help. Keep the heels on your shoes to no more than one inch.
  • Pad your bunion with moleskin or gel-pads from the pharmacy.
  • Tape your foot to help keep it in a normal position. Your doctor can show you how this is done. Using a splint at night is also an option.
  • Try anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin) to ease the acute pain and inflammation caused by joint deformities.
  • Use orthotics shoe inserts to help control foot mechanics. They can reduce symptoms and prevent the deformity from getting worse.
  • See a physical therapist about treatments such as ultrasound therapy, whirlpool and massage, or warm or cold ice packs.
  • Ask your doctor about cortisone injections. They can help reduce inflammation for a little while but they must be used with caution.

When is Surgery The Answer?

If you’ve exhausted the above treatment options, cannot fit into regular shoe gear, and your bunion interferes with your ability to enjoy life, it’s time to talk to your doctor about surgery. You shouldn’t lose quality of life because you can’t walk without pain.

(Note: Bunion surgery should never be performed for cosmetic reasons.)

What Does Surgery Involve?

The kind of surgery performed will depend on your bunion. The toe joint may need to be realigned, tendons and ligaments repaired, or part of the bump or joint removed. Your doctor will evaluate your foot and your lifestyle to determine what’s best for you.

Bunion surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure (you can go home the same day as the surgery). An orthopedic surgeon, podiatrist or a foot specialist will perform the operation.

The recovery time will vary based on the specific procedure that’s done. But, it usually ranges from four to eight weeks, depending on the severity of the bunion.

Does It Always Work?

It’s important to have realistic expectations about bunion surgery. It can make the problem better, but not eliminate it entirely. About 85-90 percent of people who have bunion surgery are very satisfied with their reduction in pain. In about 15 percent of cases the bunion grows back and the procedure needs to be repeated.

Remember that poorly fitting shoes can be a big cause of bunions. If you go back to wearing them after surgery, there’s a good chance the bunion will return.

Meet the Author

Thurmond D. Lanier, DPM is a Podiatrist at Aurora Health Center in Fond du Lac, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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