Corrective bunion surgery is not a one size fits all procedure. A bunion is a structural deformity – not a cosmetic one. The human foot is a complex mechanism supported by 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 unique muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Although a bunion looks like a localized problem, it involves the entire foot, ankle, and calf. Choosing the wrong bunion surgeon could set you up for future pain, arthritis, and a recurring bunion. Fortunately, there many high-quality bunion surgeons who can provide individualized treatment for the best possible surgical outcome. How do you find a good bunion surgeon? Consider these tips while doing your research.
If you meet a doctor that performs just one
type of bunion surgery, you might want to look elsewhere!
Where to Start
The internet is a great resource that enables you to cast a wide net. You can learn about almost any bunion surgeon’s credentials and experience by looking them up online.
Ask your social network. You might be surprised by how many of your friends, family members, and coworkers have had foot surgery.
Call your local surgery center or hospital and ask for their foot and ankle surgeons on staff.
You could also get a recommendation from your primary care physician. Depending on your insurance coverage, you may not be able to see certain specialists without your doctor’s referral
Make sure you only seek out board-certified surgeons. A surgeon certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery has been recognized for his or her expertise in the field. An orthopedic surgeon may be certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.
Factors a Bunion Surgeon Should Consider
Your bunion surgeon should be taking these factors into consideration before presenting you with a surgical plan.
- How severe is your bunion?
- Do bunions run in your family?
- What type of shoes do you wear, and what type of work do you do?
- What is the shape of your feet? Do you have flat feet or high arches?
- Do you have any other pain or abnormalities? Severe bunions often lead to big toe arthritis, which can be addressed at the time of your surgery if your surgeon is well trained.
- How loose is the first metatarsal? Bunions form when the metatarsal loosens and shifts out of alignment at its base. Your surgeon will need to stabilize it to prevent the bunion from coming back.
- Is the big toe misaligned as well? In some cases, the toe needs to be straightened for the bunion to be corrected.
Questions for a Bunion Surgeon
1. How many bunion surgeries, and what types, have you performed?
You will want your bunion surgeon to have plenty of experience, as well as expertise on various bunion surgery techniques. If your surgeon uses the same procedure for all patients, he or she is not going to provide you with the individualized attention that your unique condition needs.
2. How often do your patients need a revision of your work?
A bunion surgery might fail for several reasons. The bunion may be under- or over-corrected. A failed surgery may result in complications such as delayed bone union, malunion, or nonunion, a trapped nerve, stiffness in the joint, or excessive shortening of the first metatarsal. Or, the bunion may return, having never been truly corrected in the first place.
3. Will you be using hardware, like screws or plates?
Surgical hardware can give the foot more stability, greater bone fixation, and generally patients can walk sooner in their recovery. Many older surgeons who have not been trained in new techniques will not use screws or plates to correct bunions.
4. Will other areas of my foot be addressed in the surgery?
Bunions have structural causes which must be addressed in surgery, or else the bunion will return. Make sure your surgeon takes a whole-foot approach.
“Thank you for all your care and support. After 5 years of being in pain, you finally took care of things permanently for me. I can't tell you what a joy it is to be able to walk, or even simply pick up my kid and not be in pain. I'm forever grateful that you were my doctor...” Bill, San Diego, CA.
Don’t get discouraged by a busy practice. A busy surgeon is one who has a great reputation and is highly sought-after.
Do your surgeon and their staff provide courteous and compassionate care? You should feel good about working with this practice over the long run.
Try to ignore patient complaints about cost: a good surgical outcome is an investment in your future free of pain. Instead, focus on the surgeons whose patients are happy with their outcomes. You can also see if your surgeon has published research.
Perform a search for his or her name at National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health Database.
If you can afford it, don’t be afraid to travel. The best bunion surgeons often live in major metropolises, and are happy to work with out-of-towners.