Is Bunion Surgery Your Only Option? (And What to Expect If It Is)

If you have a bunion—and especially if you have had one for quite a long time—the specter of bunion surgery may loom in the background of your thoughts. Should you get it? Would it be worth the trouble? Is it too early or too late to make a difference?

These are all very understandable and valid questions to have. In many cases, however, the focus on weighing the pros and cons of bunion surgery can overshadow another valid question: Is bunion surgery a necessity at all?


Why You Might Not Need Bunion Surgery…

Although a bunion can be a very prominent condition with plenty of negative effects on your day-to-day life, that does not always mean that “fixing” the bunion is the only route toward finding relief.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your situation, there may be plenty of non-surgical (i.e. conservative) options for helping you find substantial relief. In fact, if these options are effective, bunion surgery may not be considered at all.

It might feel like common sense that the main goal of bunion treatment would be to actually get rid of the bump itself. However, the primary goals of treatment are rather to:

  • Relieve symptoms and complications as best as possible.
  • Help slow or stop the progression of the deformity.

Bunion surgery does not always complete these tasks better than using conservative treatments. If they would have similar effects, we will almost always recommend conservative treatments. They simply put the patient under less stress.

To consider bunion surgery, we must consider a number of factors. Any surgery is a form of trauma, albeit a controlled one with intended benefits on the other end of it. We must ensure that each patient is sufficiently able to recover from it, and that those intended benefits are worth the trouble to reach them.

As just one example, bunion surgery may be able to realign the toe, but the instabilities that caused the bunion may still remain. Some cases may have a risk of a bunion developing all over again after a successful surgery.

While the specifics of every situation must be properly weighed, the general elements that make bunion surgery a more likely possibility for people include:

  • Symptoms that are significantly interfering with your daily life. Is it difficult to walk more than a block or two without severe pain, for example? Or are you unable to perform work or activities you love?
  • You have already tried conservative methods (such as changes in footwear, custom orthotics, laser therapy for pain, padding, etc.), but they have not had as substantial an effect on your relief as we would have hoped.
  • You have severe trouble bending or flexing your toe.

But one reason we will almost never recommend bunion surgery is for purely cosmetic reasons. If you are still in the early stages of a bunion, remember that taking conservative measures now can help keep the bunion from becoming more prominent over time.

…And What to Expect if You Ultimately Need Bunion Surgery

So let’s say that the above qualifications apply to your case. Conservative methods just haven’t cut it, and bunion surgery has a high chance of providing you more benefits than detriments. What should you expect then?

Well, it isn’t possible to give an itinerary that will apply to every patient. Believe it or not, but there are more than 100 different types of surgical procedures for a bunion! Cases are far from all the same, so different approaches must be made depending on the circumstances.

During a bunion surgery, some of the more common procedures include:

  • Realigning the bones of the toe, which sometimes also requires cutting them (an osteotomy).
  • Shaving down the protruding bony bump of the bunion, or removing it altogether (a bunionectomy or exostectomy).
  • Repairing the ligaments and tendons that surround the joint, which can help balance out instabilities that have been causing the problem.
  • Removing and resurfacing parts of the joint, and/or replacing it with an artificial joint.
  • In some severe cases, removing the damaged parts of the joint and replacing them with plates, pins, wires, or screws (arthrodesis). This will often fuse the joint, but help relieve the pain that comes from flexing it.

Sometimes, multiple procedures may need to be performed, and they may not be able to be performed on the same day. Naturally, we will be sure to fully discuss with you the course that we recommend concerning a procedure or procedures. You will absolutely not be flying into anything blindly!

The length of recovery from bunion surgery, again, greatly depends on the procedure(s) performed. Other factors surrounding your procedure, including your age and general fitness/health, will also play a role.

It is highly important that all post-operative instructions are followed as precisely as possible after a bunion surgery. This includes keeping weight off the foot, wearing the proper boots and other equipment, and not engaging in specific related activities until cleared to do so. Not following rules such as these can lengthen your recovery time, or even cause complications.

It will also be important to prepare your home before the surgery to make things as easy as possible for you during your recovery. This may include relocating where you sleep to avoid stairs and be closer to the things you need, as well as arranging for someone to drive you home from surgery or check in you.

The recovery process may take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months in general, but we will be following through with you the entire way with check-ups and rehabilitation.

Get Help for Your Bunion Pain!

Whatever the state of your bunion is or how long you have had it, the time to seek professional help is now. We can provide so much more help at early stages, but bunions that have bothered you forever are not immune to the right treatments, either.

Dr. Harvey Danciger and his staff are here to help. Call our Palm Desert office at (760) 568-0108 to schedule an appointment, or fill out our online contact form to have a member of our staff respond during standard office hours.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle
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