Bunion surgery involves the realignment or complete removal of the soft tissue and bone around the joints in the big toe. A surgeon may also stabilize the toe with pins, screws, and stitches if the joint has become deformed. The procedure is normally an outpatient treatment and only takes one to two hours. A regional anesthetic or mild sedative may be administered to numb the pain during surgery.
Bunions are enlarged lumps of bone or tissue that form at the base of the major joint in the big toe due to excessive pressure put on the big toe. This may cause the big toe to bend unnaturally towards the second toe and for the surrounding tissue to become painful or swollen. Corrective shoes, rest, and other home treatments can be enough to heal them, but if the bunion persists, consider surgical options to relieve pain.
While surgical procedures vary depending on the location and severity of the bunion, the most common types of bunion surgery include:
- Complete removal of the bunion (exostectomy)
- Realignment of the ligaments around the big toe
- Removal of irregular or painful bone growths from the foot (metatarsal osteotomy) and toes (phalangeal osteotomy)
- Fusion of bones in the big toe that may have cracked or separated as a result of pressure from the bunion (arthrodesis, or Lapidus procedure)
- Insertion of an artificial ligament or joint
Benefits of Surgery
Bunion surgery will likely reduce pain and make walking, running, and other regular activities much easier, and it can realign deformed big toes, returning them to their proper shape and appearance. Surgery can restore stability in the foot, relieve swelling, and diminish the amount of stress on the big toe
As with any medical operation, bunion surgery comes with certain risks, including:
- Infection in the soft tissue around the big toe
- Numbness, tingling, and decreased sensitivity in the toes
- Restricted movement or stiffness in the joint
- Damage to the tendons that can pull the toe into an uncomfortable position
- A shortened big toe, if any of the toe’s bone is removed
- Pain and swelling
- Possible complication from the anesthetics or sedatives used during surgery
Recovery speed depends on how much soft tissue and bone was repaired during surgery. On average, full post-op recovery takes between 6 weeks and 6 months, though some cases may take up to a year to regain full mobility and strength in the foot. Your doctor will remove your stitches after 1 to 2 weeks and any pins or screws after 3 to 4 weeks. The following steps may help expedite a clean, healthy recovery:
- Keep stitches dry when showering, swimming, or bathing.
- Consider wearing braces, splints, or corrective footwear in order to relieve the amount of pressure on the affected foot.
- If surgery required complete reconstruction of the joint, avoid putting direct weight on the foot for 6 to 8 weeks.