Being recommended for a surgical procedure always feels like a big deal. This may be because we automatically connect surgery with the rhythmic beep of life support machines, IV, needles, and hospital dramas.
If this is the first image that pops into your head after hearing you need a bunionectomy, then it’s natural to wonder whether it’s truly necessary. After all, bunions aren’t deadly, right? While rarely dangerous, bunions can be extremely painful. In these cases, bunion surgery can significantly improve your well-being — but it’s natural to have questions!
What is bunion surgery?
As the most important question of all, a quick one-liner will likely not be enough. So let’s examine the basics of bunion surgery first.
A bunionectomy is a surgery that aims to correct a bunion — which orthopedic specialists call hallux valgus.
Bunions are progressive bony bumps that poke out the base of one (or both) of your big toes. Occasionally, bunions can also affect the little toe, which is called a “bunionette.” From the outside, they may look like a lump or growth. In reality, they are caused by a misalignment of the first metatarsal bone, which sits right before the big toe joint.
Bunions are not just an esthetic problem. They are painful and tend to worsen with time. Severe bunions may push a second toe or any ligaments around, causing cramping, swelling, and even back alignment problems.
There are many ways to manage the pain caused by bunions. Nonsurgical treatments include pain medicines, physical therapy, and even special shows. Once they get large and painful enough, there is only one way to reverse them – and that’s through a bunion removal surgery.
Are you getting bunion surgery soon? Here are 13 important things to know
So foot pain is now unbearable, and you’ve exhausted all conservative options. Arm yourself with information before jumping into the pool!
1. What does bunion surgery entail?
Bunion correction surgeries use different techniques to correct the bunion deformity. This may include:
- Repositioning your big toe back to its correct place
- Realigning the tendons around the toe
- Shaving off the protruding part of the bunion (exostectomy)
- Removing the parts of the joint that were damaged by the bunion, and using screws to fix the joint (arthrodesis)
- Inserting screws, splints, or pins to keep the joint in place (osteotomy)
Any good bunion surgeon will adapt and combine these techniques based on the current state of your health, the severity of the bunion, and your chances of bunion recurrence (or the joints slipping back out of place).
Either way, bunion surgery is a localized procedure. This means we won’t need general anesthesia. Instead, we will numb the area and give you a sedative, but you will remain awake.
Then, we will make a “main” incision along the toe. If we are inserting any screws or pins, we may make a few extra small incisions. Next, we will realign all the small bones and tendons, and secure them into place. Once finished, we will stitch any incisions and cover the area.
2. Is bunion surgery worth it?
This will be up to each patient. But in short, if your bunion pain was keeping you from walking, doing the activities you liked, or exercising regularly, then the surgery is worth it.
You won’t only regain the freedom of moving around pain-free, but you will also protect your future health. Feet and back pain can make exercise intolerable, and slowly drive you towards a sedentary lifestyle. This raises your chances of many other diseases later on.
3. What types of bunion surgery are available?
Nowadays, patients and podiatric surgeons may be offered the following types of procedures:
- Traditional procedures. These combine an exostectomy (bunion removal), a joint realignment, and pins or crews
- Minimally invasive (MIS) bunionectomy. Using special instruments and guided by an X-ray, an MIS bunion surgery uses very small cuts. This prevents bleeding, provides a shorter recovery period, and minimizes scarring.
- Chevron procedures. This is a patented type of osteotomy that can re-align mild to moderate bunions.
- Lapiplasty bunion correction. The “gold standard” for severe bunions, lapiplasty corrects the misalignment at the source, using special instruments and a CT scanner. Then, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or stem cells can be used to speed up recovery.
4. Is bunion surgery covered by insurance?
Some insurance companies will cover bunion surgery, especially if the pain is causing you to limit your activities or if you are at risk for back or nerve damage.
Naturally, this will depend on your plan. Some insurance companies will only cover the procedure if you have a severe bunion, or if it is impacting other medical conditions. You will also need your podiatrist to certify that the procedure is medically necessary.
5. How long does bunion surgery take?
Depending on the techniques used, a bunionectomy may take as little as 45 minutes or several hours.
6. Is bunion surgery painful?
For bunion surgery, we generally use local anesthesia. This means you will be awake, but will not feel any pain or prodding during the surgery. With that said, you will likely experience some pain and swelling after the procedure.
For pain relief, you can use anti-inflammatory medication, a special weight-bearing boot, or a cold pack.
7. What is bunion surgery recovery time?
With a traditional or “open” bunionectomy, the full recovery time may take anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks.
For a minimally invasive procedure or lapiplasty, recovery may be significantly shorter. We can speed up the process further by using platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or stem cells.
8. What to expect after bunion surgery?
Immediately after bunion surgery, you will spend a couple of hours at a recovery room. After the last of the anesthesia has worn off, you’ll be free to be taken home.
Once at home, your recovery will go through several stages:
- During the first day, you should remain off your feet as much as possible – ideally, in bed and with your leg elevated.
- During the first two weeks, your foot will be protected by bandages and a special boot.
- Your stitches will likely be removed one or two weeks after the procedure.
- After the stitches come out, you’ll still have to wear the protective boot for a few more days.
- Between four to six weeks after the surgery, you’ll leave the boot behind and start increasing your activity levels. However, you should still wear wide, comfortable shoes and avoid high heels for a couple more weeks.
9. When can I drive after bunion surgery?
If you had bunion surgery on your left foot, you will likely feel comfortable driving after a few days. However, sitting in an enclosed space for long periods may be painful. You may need to take frequent stops to elevate your feet for a couple of weeks.
If you had surgery on your right foot, you will need to stay off the wheels for longer. You’ll have to wait until the swelling has gone down and you have recovered most of your range of motion, so you can operate the gas and brake pedals safely.
10. Can you run after bunion surgery?
Eventually, yes. However, it may take a few weeks until the affected foot can handle the impact. This will depend on your constitution, the type of surgery you had, and your previous fitness status.
11. Can I wear heels after bunion surgery?
Yes, after your recovery is complete, you may even find heels to be more comfortable than before the surgery.
12. Are you put to sleep for bunion surgery?
No. Generally, bunionectomies are done under local anesthetic and don’t require you to stay overnight at a hospital or to “go under” completely.
13. What is lapiplasty?
A lapiplastly is one of the most advanced types of bunion surgery. During a lapiplasty, the surgeon will focus on realigning the tendons and ligaments from the base of the big toe. To guide these delicate movements, it uses CT scans during the surgery and minimally-invasive instruments.
Lapiplasty procedures usually cause less pain and inflammation than traditional techniques. When done properly, they can also completely prevent the recurrence of the bunion.
Why choose the Bunion Institute for your bunion treatment or surgery?
Our foot doctors are internationally recognized for their surgical expertise and experience with all types of bunion correction surgeries. Even though we’re surgeons, we believe that surgery should never be taken lightly and only pursued when other treatment options fall short or aren’t feasible.
To schedule a consultation, please call (855) 814-3600 or make an appointment now.
We are conveniently located throughout the Los Angeles area with locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.