Is It Time For Bunion Surgery?

Christie Auyeung Orthopedic Surgery Leave a Comment

What is that bony bump on the side of your foot, at the base of your big toe?

Chances are that it’s a bunion, a foot deformity where your big toe points excessively towards your second toe, causing the toe joint to jut out to the side. Many people don’t notice mild bunions because they are asymptomatic. But over time, the bunion can progress and can become very painful.

What causes bunions?

Bunions start out small and can get worse over time. There are a few factors that can contribute to bunion formation and progressions:

  1. Heredity: Genetics and family history can make you more prone to developing bunions
  2. Gender: Although both men and women are susceptible, females are more likely to develop bunions
  3. Foot Structure: If you have flat feet or fallen arches, you may be at higher risk
  4. Improper Footwear: Small shoes, pointy shoes, shoes that are tight around the toes, and high heels can cause bunions
  5. Injury: Bunions can form after an injury to the foot

What can you do about your bunion?

Bunions are permanent unless surgically corrected. However, there are a few things you can do to ease bunion pain and slow the bunions progression:

  1. Wear shoes that fit properly: Choose shoes with low heels and plenty of space for your toes
  2. Maintain a normal weight: Less pressure on your feet reduces your risk of developing a bunion
  3. Protect the bunion: You can buy a moleskin or gel-filled pad over the counter, which can provide comfort when wearing shoes
  4. Use shoe inserts: This can help keep your feet in an aligned position, which can reduce bunion pain
  5. Wear a night splint: The muscles in your feet are relaxed when you sleep, making the overnight splint an effective method of straightening toes
  6. Take pain medication: Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any medication for bunions
  7. Pamper your feet: Soaking your feet in warm water, using ice packs, or a foot massage can help ease discomfort

Should you consider surgery?

Every case is different, and the decision to have surgery is a matter of personal choice. While there is no defined time frame for recommending surgery, podiatrists will usually recommend surgery if the bunion has caused pain for at least a year.

Common indicators include:

  • Your pain restricts you from completing everyday activities
  • You can’t walk more than a few blocks without intense foot pain
  • Your big toe is frequently swollen or painful even with rest and medication
  • You can’t bend or straighten your big toe

Surgery can be done on both mild and severe bunions. Often, when patients are older, bunions can result in other painful foot conditions, like hammertoes, bursitis or pain in the balls of your feet.

How does the surgery work?

There are many types of bunion surgeries, but major goals across the board include:

  1. Realigning the toe joint
  2. Relieving pain
  3. Correcting the deformity of the bones

The type of surgery your doctor will recommend will depend on the shape and size of your bunion. The two most common procedures include:

  1. Osteotomy: Your surgeon will make small cuts in the bones and then fix the new break with pins, screws or plates. This helps straighten the bones, and the joint becomes more balanced.
  2. Arthrodesis: For patients with severe bunions or arthritis, the surgeon can remove the arthritic joint surfaces and insert screws, wires or plates to hold the surfaces together until the bones heal.

Whether you’ve just noticed your bunion or experienced discomfort for a long time, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your doctor. You may be referred to a podiatrist who specializes in foot conditions. Depending on the severity of your bunion, non-surgical treatments may be enough to manage your bunion. Your podiatrist can also help you decide whether surgery is right for you.

Interested in speaking with a doctor about your bunion? Contact one of our world-class surgeons today!

Christie is a UChicago grad currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her free time, she enjoys tap dancing, learning to windsurf, and trying new foods.