Do I Really Need Surgery for My Bunion?

Oct 15, 2019

Nobody likes to hear that they’re going to need surgery if they want their problem to get better. Even if you know that the end result is freedom from pain and a return to full activity, that doesn’t necessarily make the anxiety before the procedure any better—or the recovery any more fun.

The truth, however, is that, in many cases, surgery really is the best option. And unfortunately, by the time most patients finally come into our office to get their bunions checked out, it’s the only good option left.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, though! With earlier intervention, we may be able to help you hold bunion pain at bay for longer, and delay (perhaps indefinitely) the need for surgery.

But have you already crossed that threshold? Let’s take a closer look at this condition, and the factors that help determine whether or not surgery is the right choice.

Do I Really Need Bunion Surgery?

The Slow Progression of Deformity

We could talk all day about bunions. But for the purposes of this blog, we’ll summarize by saying there are three simple things you really should understand about them:

  • They will slowly get worse over time.
  • You may have at least some control over how quickly or slowly they worsen.
  • Surgery is the only way to get rid of them. Although conservative treatments might be able to improve your symptoms, they do not make the bunion itself any smaller.

In other words, bunions may take months, years, or even decades to morph from a small misalignment in the big toe to a massive, painful bump that won’t fit in any normal pair of shoes.

But once a bunion reaches the next phase in its development, it’s not going back. So it’s definitely in your best interest to seek out conservative treatments to manage pain and, if possible, slow progression as early as you possibly can.

Conservative Options

If you do see us early—when pain is minor (or, ideally, nonexistent) and you still fit in your shoes—there may be several non-surgical strategies we can help you pursue which may be effective.

Again, none of these will make your bunion any smaller, or make your foot go back to the way it was. But if they allow you to live your preferred lifestyle without pain, most people would call that a win—and will try to maintain that status quo as long as possible.

During your appointment, we’ll examine your feet closely and consider multiple factors—for example, the size of the bunion, flexibility of the toe joint, amount of pain, likely causes, and whether or not you’re able to perform the activities that are important to you.

From there, we may be able to recommend one or more conservative options, such as:

  • Switching to roomier or more supportive shoes
  • Bunion pads to relieve painful friction against the bump
  • Taping or splinting the misaligned toe in a neutral position (if the joint is still flexible)
  • Shoe inserts or custom orthotics that may relieve pressure on the bunion and/or correct biomechanical flaws contributing to the growth of your bunion.

If conservative measures such as these are able to address your pain and let you live your life the way you want to live, feel free to keep using them as long as you can before the situation changes.

Podiatrist checking foot bunion

When Is Surgery Necessary?

The short checklist for surgery looks something like this:

  • You’ve already tried conservative measures, and they either failed or are no longer working.
  • You experience pain daily, or when performing tasks or activities that are important to your quality of life, and that pain is bad enough to keep you from performing or enjoying them the way you would like to.

As we said earlier, the sad truth is that, by the time most patients finally come see us about their bunions, they already easily check both of these boxes.

We know we sound like a broken record here, but we want it to sink in: If you wait until you’re already in a lot of life-disrupting pain and can’t wear your shoes anymore to seek help, you’re already well past the point where surgery is really the only option you have left.

But there’s still some good news left.

Don’t Be Afraid of Surgery

Even though bunion surgery comes with some obvious frustrations—most notably a couple of weeks of downtime and up to a few months of rehab—in the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty small price to pay for having your life back. We fix the problem, and before you know it you’re back in your normal shoes and doing your normal things again.

That sure beats hobbling around on painful feet for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you say?

Even better, bunion surgery has come a long way even in just the past couple of years. Although traditional bunion surgery was already highly successful on average, we are now using the advanced Lapiplasty procedure to drive even better results for our patients.

In a traditional bunion surgery (osteotomy), bones are cut and realigned along a 2D plane. This allows your foot to return to a normal shape and function normally, but because the fundamental instability causing the bunion has not been addressed, there’s a realistic chance that your bunion may return several years later—especially if you don’t keep up with preventative care. If this happens, you’ll probably need more significant surgery, such as a fusion (arthrodesis).

By contrast, Lapiplasty fully repositions the misaligned bone (including rotationally) into the anatomically correct position, then secures the joint responsible for the original instability (which isn’t supposed to be mobile in the first place). The end result? A foot that looks right, functions correctly, and is far less likely to develop another bunion later in life.

Better yet, it’s a minimally invasive procedure that heals relatively quickly, and allows most patients to be back on their feet (with a walking boot) bearing weight within days of the operation.

We wrote a more detailed blog about Lapiplasty back in February, so be sure to check it out if you’d like to learn more!


Don’t Wait Any Longer to Do Something About Your Bunion

One more time: The earlier you seek help, the better your results will be, and the longer you’ll be able to go without needing a surgical correction. Don’t wait for the pain to become unbearable. Actually, don’t wait for it to start hurting at all. As soon as you notice your toes becoming misaligned, give us a call.

We’ll do everything we can do, within reason, to keep you off the operating table. But if, sooner or later, surgery is your best option, you can have faith that the team at Comprehensive Foot Centers has your feet in very good hands.

To schedule an appointment with us, call (816) 455-1155, or complete our online contact form to have a member of our team reach out to you.