Do I need surgery, or don't I? It's one of the questions we get most often, and unfortunately, there's no black-and-white answer. Bunions affect everyone differently, progress at different rates, and require different treatments.
Dr. Kelly Geoghan and our team have years of experience diagnosing and treating bunions, so we know when to suggest surgery and when to employ more conservative approaches.
Here, we highlight a few factors that go into our recommendations.
There are a few key things about bunions to be aware of before we start diving into your candidacy for surgery. First, it's important to know that bunions don't usually get better with time, and no matter how many conservative treatments you try, you won't "cure" a bunion. The only way to get rid of bunions for good is with surgery.
Second, bunions can get worse even when you do everything right. Once you have a bunion, it can be difficult to stop its progression, so in many cases, surgery is a matter of when not if.
However, we try every combination of conservative treatments possible to avoid surgery for as long as possible. The earlier we get started, the better. Prompt treatment can keep pain and deformity at bay for a long time. Initial treatment plans can include the following:
- Wearing supportive, flexible shoes
- Using cushioning orthotics to relieve pressure
- Using functional orthotics to correct abnormal foot motion
Pinpointing the exact moment when your bunion needs surgery requires a discussion between you and Dr. Geoghan. We establish a baseline for your bunion during your first appointment and monitor its progression and response to treatment closely. Then, we team up with you to decide when surgery is necessary.
Here are four signs that you’re getting close to needing bunion surgery.
1. You're in a lot of pain
Bunions are painful — that's a fact. But you shouldn't be in agony in their earliest stages and after you begin treating them. When your bunions become so painful that nothing offers relief, that's a telltale sign surgery is the best way forward.
2. Nothing's worked
Conservative treatments aren't a cure for bunions but are effective in many cases. When they stop working or if your bunion never responds in the first place, we start discussing surgery as an option.
3. You can't get around
Swelling, stiffness, and even numbness can accompany bunion pain — all of which can make it next to impossible for you to stay active and engage in your regular routine — which may earn you a ticket to the operating room.
4. Your foot structure is changing
In the most severe cases, bunions can cause a toe deformity (a drifting of your big toe toward your small toe) or make bending and straightening it difficult. In either case, we usually recommend going forward with surgery.
The ins and outs of bunion surgery
Opting for surgery even for more minor problems like bunions can be overwhelming, so we understand if you're a bit wary. The good news is that bunion surgery doesn't require overly invasive techniques. Dr. Geoghan has the skills and technology to remove your bunion quickly and with as little disruption as possible.
Depending on your needs, we can remove bunions in a single- or multi-step operation. It usually involves:
- Removing swollen tissue from your big toe joint
- Removing part of your big toe bone to straighten it
- Realigning the bones in your forefoot to correct the angle of your big toe
Mild bunions usually only require removing the enlarged portion of bone and realigning muscles, tendons, and ligaments. If you have a severe bunion, namely one that resulted from arthritis, the entire joint may need to be replaced.
You can expect to be able to bear weight shortly after your operation, but be sure to allow your foot time enough to heal. Full recovery can take a few weeks up to a few months. We send you home with strategies to help you stay mobile while protecting your toe during recovery.
Bunions can be an annoying, painful bump in the road, but we can help you past it. If you'd like more information about our approach to bunions or want to find out if you need surgery, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment online or over the phone at our Lutherville, Maryland, office today.