A bunion is a lump of bone on the knuckle of your big toe. Sometimes the big toe points towards the other toes on the foot (hallux valgus). Arthritis, or wearing tight or ill-fitting shoes over a period of many years, may increase the risk of bunions. However, they can have other causes. Bunions are more common in women and sometimes run in families. Exercises and corrective footwear can sometimes help bunions. However, when these non– surgical treatments don't work, surgery can relieve pain and correct the deformity.
Bunion removal is usually done under general anaesthesia. This means you will be asleep throughout the procedure. The operation can be performed as a day case, but a night or two in hospital is sometimes required. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and risks of having a bunion operation, and will also discuss the alternatives to the procedure.
About the operation
Once the anaesthesia has taken effect, your surgeon will make an incision in the top or side of the big toe joint. The exact procedure will vary depending on the type and size of the bunion being treated. Your surgeon may cut through the joint, remove a small piece of bone and re-align the toe. The joint may be stabilised using screws or tiny wires to keep it in place. At the end of the operation, the incision will be closed with stitches and your foot will be bandaged or placed in a plaster cast. The operation usually lasts about an hour and a half.
After your operation
A physiotherapist will visit you after your operation and give you some advice about how to move around safely with your dressing or cast. You may also see the physiotherapist again after your cast or dressing is removed.
You should put your foot up whenever you can to help prevent swelling. You will be given a protective over-shoe to use when you go outside. You may not be able to put your weight fully on the foot for six weeks, though you'll probably be able to walk around on your heel. If you can’t do this, you may need to use crutches.
What are the risks?
Bunion removal is a commonly performed and generally safe operation. For most people, the benefits in terms of improved symptoms are much greater than the disadvantages. However, all surgery carries an element of risk.
These are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects of a successful treatment. An example of a side-effect is feeling sick as a result of the anaesthetic or painkillers. After surgery your toe may feel sore and it will probably be swollen and stiff.
This is when problems occur during or after the operation. Most people are not affected. The possible complications of any operation include an unexpected reaction to the anaesthetic, infection, excessive bleeding or developing a blood clot, usually in a vein in the leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT).
The chance of complications depends on the exact operation you are having and other factors such as your general health. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.