Should I Have Bunion Surgery?

Written by Karen Bryan

I decided to have bunion surgery once my bunion started to get painful. I’ve had a bunion on my left foot for as long as I can remember, it seems to run in my Mum’s family. I’d just accepted the bunion and as I usually wear either trainers or sandals, it wasn’t that hard to find shoes that fitted.

pre bunion surgery

My pre-surgery bunion

six months after surgery

6 months after surgery

I’d heard various stories about bunion surgery, from horror stories to ‘it’s no big deal’. I wouldn’t embark on any type of surgery lightly, due to possible complications. However, as the bunion became more painful, I decided I’d need to take action.

At least in the UK you receive medical treatment free of charge at the point of use, so there was no need to worry about finance for the operation.

When I visited my family doctor, he suggested I see a podiatrist first to explore the non-surgical options. I tried some insoles and toe separators, but they didn’t do the job.

It was time to see a consultant to find out if surgery was a viable option. I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t get surgery done at our local hospital in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I’d need to undertake the 60 mile return journey to Alnwick for a minimum of six trips, the initial consultation, the pre-op appointment, the surgery, the one and two week and six month check ups.

After an x-ray and examination, the consultant told me that I had a moderate bunion. He was able to offer me day surgery with a scarf and Akin osteotomy under local anaesthestic, which would get rid of the bump and straighten my big toe.

I was quite apprehensive in the run-up to surgery.

There was a fall of wet snow as we drove to Alnwick for my surgery in mid March 2013, which only added to my nervousness. The first round of injections into my ankle was painful. It was very difficult to get my foot anaesthetised. The nurse had to use the maximum allowable dose of  anaesthetic. Whereas, the woman in the next bed only needed the first round of injections.

I was wheeled into the op room not knowing if the surgery was going to happen until the consultant did the final sensation test. The tourniquet around my ankle was really uncomfortable. I felt nothing in the sensation test, so the surgery went ahead.  Although I could feel no pain during surgery, I felt the sensations of slicing and sawing.

My initial recovery went smoothly. The wound healed well with no infection. There wasn’t too much pain, but it was hard to get into a comfy position for sleep. It was hard to get up and down the stairs for the first couple of days  I used crutches for the first ten days. I bought a plastic foot protector,  as I didn’t fancy not being able to have a shower for two weeks.

My temporary office post bunion surgery

My temporary office allowed leg elevation

I was aware that my big toe was sticking up from the one week post-op check up. When it was still sticking up at the two week check up, I asked the nurse about it. She said I should do all the exercises regularly and that should help it flatten.

My ankle became quite swollen in the warm weather over the Summer. I wore sandals frequently, so maybe that meant that the big toe wasn’t being compressed  by footwear. I also had strange sensations in my foot and some pains at the left hand side of my foot. I put this down to the readjustment required to walk with a different weight distribution on a bunionless foot.

Six months after surgery, the big toe still stuck up quite a bit and there was some swelling and intermittent pain around the ankle.  I was told that full recovery could take up to twelve months.

Thirteen months after the bunion surgery, my big toe still sticks up a bit, there’s no swelling, but I do still get weird sensations all over my foot, most often in bed at night.

I can’t categorically say that I’m glad I had the bunion surgery. While it’s good to have gotten rid of the ugly bump, that wasn’t my motivation for the surgery. My focus was on pain reduction  and in avoiding a probable increase in the size of the bunion and pain in future years. I’m still getting some discomfort/pain in my foot, but this is gradually decreasing. Prior to the operation, the pain was localised to the bump.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing how bad the bunion might have become without intervention.

Update May 2016 – It’s now more than three years since I had bunion surgery. The foot feels much better now i.e. no pain or twinges and the big toe feels similar to the other big toe during movement. But the ex-bunion big toe still sticks up, although less than originally.