Bunion Removal

Written by Erica Roth | Published on July 18, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

A bunion is a bony bump that forms between the first and second joint of your big toe. Your big toe points toward your second toe when you have a bunion. The bunion consists of both bone and soft tissue and is classified as a foot deformity.

Bunions can be very painful. Wearing shoes that are too small or too narrow in the toe area is the most common cause of bunions. Women are more likely than men to develop bunions.

Bunion removal is a surgical procedure that corrects a deformed area of the foot near the big toe. Bunion removal is also sometimes called a bunionectomy, bunion surgery, or hallux valgus correction. Hallux valgus is a Latin phrase meaning foot deformity. Bunion removal is necessary when nonsurgical treatment methods do not reduce an individual’s pain.

Choosing Bunion Surgery

Many people get relief from bunion pain by wearing larger shoes with a wider toe-box (for example, athletic shoes instead of ballet flats or high heels). Cushioning bunions with protective pads also help. Those who experience pain even after making these lifestyle adjustments may choose bunion removal surgery as an effective treatment method.

You are most likely an ideal candidate for bunion surgery if:

  • your pain restricts or prohibits you from completing everyday routines or activities
  • you cannot walk more than a few blocks without severe pain
  • your big toe remains swollen and painful even with rest and medication
  • you can’t bend or straighten your big toe

Discuss your condition with your doctors so they have complete information about your symptoms and limitations. Your doctor will take X-rays of your foot to diagnose the condition and to determine the kind of surgery needed to correct your specific problem.

More than 100 different types of bunion removal surgery exist to remove the bump and to realign the positioning of the big toe. The type of surgery you need depends on how your bunion developed.

Preparing for Bunion Removal Surgery

You’ll need to undergo a few medical tests to check your overall health before scheduling bunion removal. Your doctor will take an X-ray of your lungs, perform a cardiogram to check your heart function, and test your urine and blood for any underlying illnesses. You may be asked to stop taking medications a few days before surgery, particularly if you take aspirin or other blood-thinning drugs.

Bunion removal surgery is usually an outpatient procedure, meaning that you go home within a few hours after the operation is completed and after the general anesthesia has worn off. Your medical care provider will determine how long you should fast before the surgery based on your surgery time. Follow the directions carefully to avoid possible complications.

Bunion Surgery Procedure

Most people don’t need a general anesthetic during bunion removal surgery. Instead, you will get a local anesthetic called an ankle block. An ankle block makes sure you are numb below the ankle, but are awake for the surgery. Once you are completely numb, the surgeon will remove the bunion and make other repairs to your foot. Some of the most common types of bunion removal procedures are:

  • Osteotomy: the surgeon cuts your big toe joint and realigns it to a normal position
  • Exostectomy: the surgeon removes the bunion from the joint without performing alignment
  • Arthrodesis: the surgeon replaces the damaged joint with screws or metal plates to correct the deformity

The surgeon will bandage your foot after the surgery and take you to the recovery room. Your blood pressure and heart rate will be monitored as you wait for the anesthesia to wear off. Generally, you are allowed to go home after a couple of hours in recovery.

Recovering from Bunion Surgery

Full recovery from bunion removal surgery can take an average of five months. For the first two weeks following your surgery, you’ll wear a surgical boot or cast to protect your foot, and you should avoid getting your stitches wet.

After the cast or boot is removed, you’ll wear a brace to support your foot while you heal. You won’t be able to bear weight on your foot at first and will use crutches for assistance. Gradually, you can start putting some weight on your foot, using a walker or crutches for support. Keep off your feet as much as you can, and ice your foot and toe to speed healing and reduce inflammation. After a week or two, you can drive if necessary.

Expect your foot to remain swollen to some degree for several months after bunion removal. Wear shoes with ample room to minimize your pain. Women are encouraged to avoid wearing high heels for at least six months after bunion removal. Your doctor may send you to physical therapy, where you’ll learn exercises that can strengthen your foot and lower leg.

Long-Term Outlook

Bunion removal surgery is highly successful. A small percentage of patients experience recurring pain, nerve damage, and infection after bunion removal. However, 90 percent of bunion patients experience a full recovery without complications.

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