Your guide to bunion surgery and recovery

Bunions are a fairly common toe problem and occur when a bony lump forms at the base of your big toe. This makes your big toe lean towards your other toes, causing discomfort and pain. 

A bunion usually forms due to pressure applied to your big toe, for example, due to tight-fitting shoes. However, your genetics are also involved, with some people more prone to developing bunions than others. 

In severe cases, you may need bunion surgery to remove your bunion. Here, we’ll look at what surgery involves and what you can expect during the recovery process. 

Bunion surgery explained

Also known as a bunionectomy, bunion surgery removes the bony bump (bunion), re-aligns the big toe and rebalances the joint in the big toe. It involves manipulating both the soft tissue and bone inside your foot. 

The goal of bunion surgery is to relieve your toe pain and prevent your bunion from coming back. Bunion surgery is performed under general anaesthesia or regional anaesthesia. It is a day surgery, which means you will not need to stay overnight in hospital.

Recovering from bunion surgery

After your surgery, you may experience some pain but your doctor will prescribe you pain relief medication to take home; they may also prescribe blood thinners. 

In most cases, you can walk on day one of your recovery. However, your care team will advise you to keep your foot elevated as often as you can during the first two weeks of your recovery. 

Your care team will also recommend simple daily toe exercises to aid your recovery, such as wiggling your toes up and down to prevent them from becoming stiff. You will be referred to a physiotherapist for further exercises. 

Your foot will be bandaged and placed inside a surgical sandal. For the first two weeks, while your foot is fully bandaged, you will need to keep it dry when bathing and showering. 

After two weeks, your bandages and dressings will be removed by your care team during your two-week follow-up appointment. 

After six weeks, you can usually start wearing normal footwear again. However, you should avoid wearing tight or high-heeled shoes initially and instead wear wide-toed shoes so no unnecessary pressure is placed on your toes. 

At around six weeks, you will have another follow-up appointment to check on your recovery. 

Returning to normal activities

You won’t be able to return to driving until you can wear normal shoes and successfully perform an emergency stop. 

If your job is sedentary, then you may be able to return to work a few days after your surgery. However, if your work is more physically demanding, you may need to take a few weeks off. 
Follow your doctor’s advice on when to return to sports, exercise and other physical activities — this may take up to 12 weeks. 

Complications of bunion surgery

Every surgery comes with risks but for bunion surgery, complications are rare. 

You should contact your care team immediately if you notice increased swelling or pain, or notice unpleasant smells coming from your foot.

Outcomes of bunion surgery

In over 90% of cases, bunion surgery is successful in both treating the bunion and preventing it from coming back. In cases where a bunion recurs, further surgery may be needed. 

Author biography

Mr Mohammed Al-Maiyah is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Spire St Anthony's Hospital and Croydon University NHS Hospital, specialising in foot and ankle arthritis, joint replacement and arthrodesis, arthroscopy, sports injuries and trauma, and bunion surgery (correction of hallux valgus). He has completed over 8,000 procedures across different orthopaedic subspecialties, particularly in foot, ankle and trauma surgery.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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