Getting Rid of That Bony Bane of Existence: Bunion Surgery and Recovery

Approximately 4.4 million people discover they have bunions each year. Also, while they occur more often in women, they can also occur in men. Furthermore, the chance of getting bunions increases as you age.

If you think you may need bunion surgery, then talk with a doctor, as the procedure will be less involved when it is smaller. It is better to have it checked before it continues to enlarge. 

Let’s delve a little deeper into what a bunion is, how to recognize it, and how bunion surgery and recovery works.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Toes and Joints

The big toe, called the hallux, has two joints. The metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP) is the biggest joint. The metatarsals are the bones are the long bones of the foot that connect the midfoot to your toes.

Bunions will develop at the MTP joint.

What is a Bunion?

Most of us have heard of bunions, but many don’t know what it is? The medical term for a bunion is a hallux valgus. A bunion is a malalignment of the first metatarsal which  causes a protuberance at the big toe. 

These painful prominences start small and develop over time. 

If there is too much laxity related to your bunion joint, it can start to affect other parts of your foot. This causes pressure towards the second toe, which can create conditions like hammer toe or metatarsalgia.

In severe cases, the second toe can cross over the big toe as the bunion gets more pronounced. 

What Causes Bunions?

Several different factors can cause bunions including:

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight across the foot and toes, or high heels that force your toes down into the shoe
  • Heredity causes some people’s foot shape to develop bunions easier than those that didn’t inherit the trait
  • Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or neuromuscular conditions like polio

Decrease your risk by wearing properly fitting shoes and see a doctor immediately if you have pain in the MTP joint.

What Are the Signs of a Bunion?

You should watch for the following signs and symptoms of a bunion:

  • A bump sticking out in the area of the MTP joint
  • Redness, swelling, or soreness at the MTP joint
  • Corns or calluses if you have toes overlapping
  • Either intermittent or ongoing pain
  • Decreased movement of your big toe
  • Pain in the ball of your foot

It is best to see a doctor who specializes in treating foot disorders such as an orthopedic foot specialist.

Complications Associated with Bunions

All bunions do not cause problems that need a physician, but bunions will never go away on their own. Possible complications of bunions can include:

Bursitis: The bursa is the fluid-filled sac that cushions bones near the MTP joint. When this becomes swollen, it can cause painful bursitis.

Hammertoe:This is an abnormal bend in the middle of the lesser toes

Metatarsalgia: This is categorized as pain in the ball of your foot that often feels like you are walking on a bruised bone or marble.

How is a Bunion Diagnosed?

When you go to see the foot specialist, they will perform the following to make a diagnosis.

Medical History – This includes questions such as:

  • When did you first notice a bunion?
  • Are you having foot or toe pain?
  • Do you have a previous history of bunions?
  • Do you have family members with bunions?
  • What kind of shoes do you usually wear?
  • Are you on your feet for long periods of time?

Physical Exam– The physician will look for changes in bone structure. They will check how much movement you have in your toes.

The doctor will assess numbness, tingling, and pain. They might also have you walk to look at how your feet move, and how your weight is distributed.

X-ray – The doctor could recommend an x-ray to determine how far the first metatarsal has moved away from the other toes. They can also see if other toes, or your foot, has changed over time and look for signs of arthritis.

MRI Scan– A MRI will look for changes in the cartilage at the MTP joint to see if your bunion or cause of pain is from arthritis in the big toe.

What is the Purpose of Bunion Surgery?

Before agreeing to a surgical procedure, make sure you understand the plan.

The purpose of bunion surgery is to decrease pain and fix the deformity. The type of surgery depends on:

  • The severity of the bunion
  • Your age
  • General health
  • Activity level
  • Condition of bones and connective tissue

There are different ways to fix a bunion that your surgeon can discuss with you based on the exam and radiographic findings.

What is the Recovery from Bunion Surgery Like?

After surgery, your doctor or their staff will monitor you until you are ready to go home. Most people will go home the same day. Your doctor will then give you specific instructions for the first few weeks. You will go home with a splint that extends from your foot to just below the knee.

At home, you need to rest and keep the foot elevated to decrease pain and swelling. You will be required to stay non-weight bearing during this period. 

Be sure to keep the dressing dry and clean and cover the dressing with a plastic bag when showering. Take pain medication as prescribed.

Make sure to contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • Redness, swelling, bleeding, or drainage at the incision

Once your splint is removed at your first post-operative visit, you will be given a removable boot. However, you will likely need to remain non-weight bearing for a few more weeks while in the boot. Many people use a knee scooter to get around during this period.  Your physician will tell you when it will be safe to drive again. 

Physical therapy is recommended and will help regain strength and motion.  This begins at 6 weeks post-operatively. Furthermore, you should not wear high heels or do any high impact exercise for at least 6 months.

Do You Have Foot or Ankle Problems?

Our office specializes in foot and ankle problems. We can help with Achilles problems, ankle fractures, heel fractures, flat feet, Morton’s neuroma, and more. Also, check out our blog for more questions you might have about foot and ankle related problems.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact our office today.