Why get a bunion removed?
A bunion is a structural deformity of the big toe joint in the foot.
Humans have two bones that make up the big toe, the metatarsal and hallux. A bunion develops when the metatarsal starts to turn inward and the toe turns outward, leaving a bony prominence that sticks out.
You could also develop what's known as a bunionette on the outside of the fifth toe, or pinkie toe.
In general, your genetics will determine whether you develop a bunion. If you know you're susceptible to developing a bunion, one of the best things you can do is wear shoes with good arch support. Good arch support won't stop a bunion from developing, but it could slow down the bunion's speed in development and its severity.
Another reason people develop bunions is pronation, or when the foot flattens out. Everyone has pronation, but in some people who pronate more, it is more likely to have the big toe start to turn in. Wearing high heels or poorly fitting shoes increases your risk of developing a bunion.
To treat your bunion, a doctor might suggest nonsurgical options first. For example, your doctor might recommend bigger shoes, bunion pads, bunion sleeves or shoe stretchers. Especially if the bunion doesn't hurt, it's up to you on whether it is surgically corrected.
If nonsurgical options won't relieve the pain, your next option would most likely be a bunionectomy, the surgical correction of a bunion. Insurance generally will cover the procedure if the bunion is painful.
What happens when you get a bunion removed?
A bunionectomy is an outpatient procedure that takes about THIS LONG. There are different ways that a doctor can fix a bunion. The surgery that's best for you will depend on the severity of the bunion.
Before the surgery, you'll receive anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain and to help you relax.
For people with only slight angulation, where the bone sticks out a little, the surgery performed will be pretty simple. In this instance, your doctor might make a four-inch cut over the area and smooth down the bone, removing the swollen tissue and straightening your big toe.
If the bunion is more severe, your doctor might have to cut the bone and slide the bone in place. The doctor might use pins, screws, plates or a cast to put the toe in place and ensure that your toe is straight.
The surgery might include making tendons shorten or longer, shaving off the bunion, removing some of the damaged joint or cutting part of the bone on both sides of your toe joint.
Does it hurt?
It will depend on your pain tolerance. During the surgery, you shouldn't feel pain.
Afterward, there could be some discomfort for the first week. Your doctor will usually recommend elevating your foot to relieve pressure.
You will likely be prescribed pain medication. It's up to you on whether you would like to take it.
What are the risk factors?
With any surgery, there's risk of infection and bleeding. The good thing about bunions is there's not a major artery in that area.
After the surgery, there's a risk of dislodging the correction if you fall before your foot has healed from the surgery.
There is some risk that the bunion will come back, but it likely will take a long time for that to occur. There is also a risk that the surgery won't relieve the pain you felt from the bunion. It is important to talk with your doctor or podiatrist about risks and any other questions you might have.
What's the recovery time?
Your recovery time will depend on how severe your bunion was and what type of surgery you had. Often, you're walking the same day you had surgery. People usually aren't on crutches, unless the bunion is severe.
If you have screws or pins inserted in your foot, the recovery time is about six weeks. You likely will be in some kind of prescribed boot or shoe for that time period. The sutures still will come out at two weeks.
There likely will be inflammation and some discomfort the first three to five days. The swelling should go down after the first week. Your doctor likely will release you to regular activities between two weeks and six weeks.
Although some of the deformity will be gone, the surgery might not give you a perfect-looking foot. Full recovery can take three to five months.
What's the follow-up?
Your doctor will want to check in with you a week or so after surgery to ensure everything is healing properly. If things look good, your doctor might put a lighter bandage on your foot. Sometime in the next week to month, your doctor will remove your sutures.
Source: Dr. Scott Morris, Oklahoma Foot and Ankle Associates; The Mayo Clinic; The National Institutes of Health.