Bunion Surgery

A bunion is a bone deformity caused by an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint). Bunions form when the toe moves out of place. The enlargement and its protuberance cause friction and pressure as they rub against footwear. Over time, the movement of the big toe angles in toward the other toes . The growing enlargement or protuberance then causes more irritation or inflammation. In some cases, the big toe moves toward the second toe and rotates or twists, which is known as Hallus Abducto Varus. Bunions can also lead to other toe deformities, such as hammertoe.

Many people with bunions suffer from discomfort and pain from the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction of the enlargement against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Over time, bursitis or arthritis may set in, the skin on the bottom of the foot may become thicker, and everyday walking may become difficult--all contributing to chronic pain.

Bunions have been with mankind since the beginning of time. Undoubtedly they have received more attention since shoes have become a vital part of our fashion. It is generally recognized that those who have a bunion deformity most probably inherited the tendency from an earlier generation. So often people are told "don't have anything done until you can't stand the pain"! This is a misconception! Our rule of thumb is that when it becomes obvious that you have a bunion, that is the time to correct it!

Treatment for Bunions

Certainly the goal in bunion treatment is to limit the deformity and to stop the progression if it has already begun. This can only be done in the very beginning stages. When it is seen that the deformity is beginning in children and young adults, often the use of a good custom orthotic will stop the progression of the deformity. Also wearing shoes that do not irritate the deformity is also wise.

Surgical Treatment

The greatest hurdle that people with bunion deformities have to overcome is history. In most instances, these people have had a relative with the same deformity who years ago had surgery and they remember the pain and the weeks and months in casts and on crutches. They also remember that after going through all of this pain and suffering, in many instances the bunion came back.

The good news is that in the past 10 years new techniques and better instrumentation have been developed. Bunion correction of today involves the use of micro instruments with precise cuts in the bone to correct the deformity, thus limiting the rate of re-occurrence. The old days of the doctor saying "I'm going to have to break the bone and reset" it are gone. If anyone says that to you, run as fast as you can! Gone are the days of casts and crutches and wheel chairs post-operatively. Only in the most severe cases must the patient be "non-weight bearing". In most cases, the patients at the Ford Center can resume a fairly normal lifestyle in days or weeks rather than months.

At the Ford Center for Foot Surgery, the procedures are done with I.V. sedation administered by one of our qualified anesthesiologists. We also use a regional anesthetic which is much safer than a general anesthetic. We can do this because we do not use tournequets when we do foot surgery. This minimizes post operative pain as well as the risk of blood clots. The net result of this is that the patient is awake and can walk within minutes following the surgery but their foot is numb for 18 - 20 hours.

The procedure itself is accomplished through an incision on the inside of the foot, thus there are no unsightly scars. The capsule of the joint is exposed and is opened revealing the "bump" on the side of the metatarsal bone. The over growth of bone is removed. Next a very precise "V" cut is made in the bone from one side to the other and the end or head of the bone is moved over. This narrows the foot back down to its normal width. To maintain this, a small screw is placed in the bone to secure the correction. The skin and soft tissues are then sutured and the foot bandaged. The foot is then placed in a post op shoe that will be worn for several weeks.

As a general rule, our patients return to comfortable shoes in 2 to 3 weeks.

Bunions are progressive bone deformities of the foot that often cause recurring or chronic inflammation, irritation, and pain that require surgical correction. Surgical removal of a bunion is called a bunionectomy. However, there are multiple types of bunionectomies, each designed to resolve different structural changes caused by the deformity.

Bunion surgeries fall into two major categories:

  • Head procedures that treat the big toe joint. In a head procedure bunionectomy, the bone is cut just behind the joint, moved into its proper position, and fixed in place with a screw or pin. Head procedures are often used for patients who cannot be immobilized for long periods of time.
  • Base procedures concentrate on the bone near or behind the big toe joint. Different types of base procedures are conducted depending on the nature of the deformity. These range from cutting a wedge out of the bone and splitting it so that it can be moved into its proper position; making a semi-circular cut and rotating the bone into its correct position; or fusing the joint. Ligaments inside and outside the toe may also be treated during a base procedure.

There are three important factors that impact the success of bunion surgery:

  1. Choose a surgeon with extensive experience with bunionectomies. Because a deep understanding of the biomechanics of each patient's foot as well as the intricacies of each surgical option is needed, surgeons with more experience at doing bunionectomies are better able to help each patient achieve the best outcome.
  2. Be realistic in your expectation about what a bunionectomy can accomplish. No physician can guarantee that a bunion won't recur or that a patient will be absolutely pain free. Additionally, because of the complexity of the foot structures impacted by a bunion, patients may never be able to wear normal or slender shoes. Bunion surgery can reduce or eliminate the bone deformity, improve foot alignment and function, and prevent damage to other toes, but it does have its limitations. Be sure you understand all the possibilities before opting for this surgery.
  3. Bunion surgery is not a magic bullet.  Surgery alone may not be all that is needed to achieve your best outcome. After surgery, many patients experience long healing and recovery times and often have to spend time in physical therapy. Additionally, you may need a corrective orthotic device on an ongoing basis.

What To Expect

Most bunions surgeries today are performed on an outpatient basis at a surgical center or hospital. Set aside the entire day for the surgery, although you may only be at the facility for a half day.

Prior to the surgery, patients will need to make some preparatory arrangements. These include:

  • Seeing your Primary Care Physician (PCP) to make sure any other health conditions are stabilized prior to surgery and to document your complete medical history, which can then be given to the foot surgeon.
  • Arranging your schedule to make sure you don't need to take any long trips for at least two to three weeks following the surgery.
  • Lining up another person to drive you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours after the surgery.
  • Stopping the use of any anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, for five to seven days before the surgery.

The night before the surgery, you will not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight. You should also wash your foot the night before and morning of the procedure to help reduce surrounding bacteria and prevent infection.

Bunion surgery is usually performed with a local anesthetic and is administered by an anesthesiologist. This may be combined with sedation medication to put you into "twilight" so that you are fully relaxed. After the surgery, patients are often given a long-acting anesthetic and pain medication, which is why someone else must drive the patient home.

The type of procedure you have will determine the degree to which you can put weight on the foot immediately after the surgery. Some patients, particularly those having base procedures, may have to use crutches; others may be sent home wearing a surgical shoe. The foot will be covered in a dressing, which you will need to keep dry for up to two weeks or until the sutures are removed.

During the first week after surgery, you will need to keep the foot elevated as much as possible. Ice packs also should be applied for the first three to four days to reduce swelling. Limited ambulation or walking is required over the first two weeks to promote healing. Most patients also are instructed on some basic exercises that need to be performed daily.

Sutures are generally removed about two weeks after the surgery in the doctor’s office. Once the sutures are removed, you can bathe and shower normally, but will still need to wear a dressing over the wound to keep it clean and prevent infection.

By the third or fourth week post surgery, swelling generally subsides enough for the patient to begin wearing a wide athletic shoe. It is important to continue daily exercises. If recommended, physical therapy may be initiated at this time. Once the wound has completely closed, you can use lotions to soften the skin in the surgical area.

By week five after the surgery, you will be able to walk short distances and do mild fitness activities. Continue following your surgeons instructions for increasing exercise and activities until you are back to normal.