It must be getting rough if you’re researching minimally invasive bunion surgery.
I feel ya.
I had bunions on both feet for as long as I can remember. They were prominent and painful, and, well, hideous (cosmetically speaking).
When they began to bother me while doing what I love—skiing and hiking in particular—I decided it was time to explore my options about getting rid of them for good.
And I’ll admit it, I also wanted to be able to wear fabulous strappy shoes on occasion.
I’d investigated taking care of my bunions before. Fifteen years ago I saw a podiatrist who urged delaying surgery as long as possible given the painful, extended recovery process of traditional bunion surgery. Instead he recommended expensive custom orthotics and “sensible” shoes.
Still considering myself young and fabulous, I implemented neither of his suggestions.
And they got worse.
With 2020 came the pandemic and plenty of downtime to explore minimally invasive bunion surgery. Within a week I had my free consultation, completed my research, and had surgery on both feet, back-to-back days.
Today I am 12 weeks’ post-op and I am beyond thrilled with the results.
I’m sharing details about my experience to provide a first-hand account of an active adult over 40. I will answer what I suspect are your most burning questions about bunion surgery. And I’ll share a few pictures too…but I’ll spare you the video I took during surgery.
What is a Bunion?
As you’re well aware, a bunion (hallux valgus) is a bump at the base of the big toe on the inside of the foot. That “bump” is actually the protruding, displaced big toe joint.
They’re caused by an imbalance in the foot’s muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This can result from ill-fitting shoes and/or genetics.
Since I didn’t have a habit of wearing ill-fitting shoes, I figured my bunions must be hereditary.
Thus far, my random foot inspections at family gatherings have proven fruitless (not to mention, awkward), so I’m still trying to figure out who gave them to me. Someday I hope to thank them by offering the opportunity to help “foot” the bill!
Anyway…behold, my bunions:
These nubs were pretty prevalent, but I wasn’t sure if surgery was the answer. Maybe you’re wondering the same thing.
Is Bunion Surgery Really Necessary?
To be clear, my bunions were bothersome and pretty unsightly, but I was never in agony. The last few miles of a long hike would be moderately painful, so would a full day of skiing. But I wasn’t pushing myself to that degree all the time.
So I visited a minimally invasive bunion surgery provider near me for a free consultation to help answer that question for myself. I’d been seeing their ads in the newspaper for years, and one of their two locations in the entire country happened to be 10 minutes away from my house.
During my consultation a technician took X-rays, and then the doctor explained the procedure he expected to perform on me, possible complications, and recovery process. I had a ton of questions, and he patiently answered every one of them.
Then he exited the room so someone else could drop the bomb about what it was going to cost.
Ah, elective surgery!
Luckily I was given a darn good estimation of what insurance benefits and out-of-pocket costs I could expect so I could make an informed decision.
Below are the X-rays from my consultation:
The severity of the bunion and the best course of action is partly determined by measuring the angle between the first and second metatarsal bone. A measurement between 0-8 degrees is considered normal.
My left foot was 17.4 and my right was 19.8.
I am such an overachiever.
Anyway, the doctor explained that they could worsen (as they had been over the years) so I chose to tackle the problem before they really affected my quality of life.
What Does Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery Entail?
You’ve probably read enough about traditional bunion surgery and recovery to know that it is notoriously painful. It requires a large incision up to 2 ½ inches long and permanent hardware to keep the realigned joint in place.
Plus, recovery requires weeks of non-weight bearing, and it can take up to a year before you’re able to return to normal activity. If the surgery is successful.
And if your other foot has a bunion, you have to repeat that process twice.
When doing your research, you’ll notice the term “minimally invasive bunion surgery” can be vague. It can encompass a variety of bunion correction methods depending on the severity of your case and the doctor.
But you should expect the following for a truly minimally invasive procedure:
- Local anesthesia
- Ability to walk out of surgery
- Both feet can be done back-to-back days
- Small incisions
- No permanent hardware
- Quicker healing, faster return to normal activity
My particular procedure for both feet required a temporary pin to hold the newly aligned joint in place and three tiny incisions (each needed a single stitch). My right foot required some shaving of the bunion.
Here are the before and 1-week after surgery X-rays:
How Painful is Bunion Surgery?
Not so painful or involved that you need to be put under. As I mentioned, minimally invasive procedures use local anesthesia. I was also offered a continuous supply of nitrous oxide and an Ativan (to calm the nerves). I accepted both with enthusiasm.
I was feeling pretty darn good by the time the doctor began administering several nerve blocking injections around the bunion.
Those shots were the most painful part of the entire surgery and recovery.
I mean for that to be encouraging.
(Take the Ativan.)
How Long Does Bunion Surgery Take?
Not very long, especially given how close I live to a provider.
But for the actual procedure, on the first day I checked in at 2:00 and left the office by 3:30. The surgery itself lasted about 45 minutes. The next day my fabulous doctor either upped his game or had less of a challenge. Whatever the case, that surgery lasted only 30 minutes.
Can You Walk After Bunion Surgery?
Yes, it is true, you can walk right out of surgery. After the doctor stitched me up, the nurse wrapped my foot, put me in a Frankenstein boot, and off I went. Had I not taken an Ativan I would have been allowed to drive myself home.
How Long Does it Take to Recover After Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery?
Of course, recovery time is different for everyone.
In my case, the first few days after surgery I had some pain but nothing unmanageable. And I had no trouble sleeping after bunion surgery. I was given a prescription for painkillers, which I filled, but I only took two over the first two days. I probably could have gone without.
After that, I alternated between Advil and Tylenol to manage pain during the first week. And I iced a couple times a day for 20 minutes for two weeks.
My job was unaffected since I work from home. But unless yours requires physical activity or standing for long periods of time, you may not need to take time off.
As far as day-to-day life, I was able to manage trips to the grocery store and other necessary errands.
Looking back I realize I should have milked that recovery period a little more…
When Can You Return to Regular Activity After Bunion Surgery?
You may be putting off bunion surgery because you’ve heard the horror stories or you have an active lifestyle and you don’t want to be sidelined. That’s certainly how I felt.
Once I decided that I was going to do the minimally invasive surgery, I just had to pick which “season” I was going to take off. And I chose to have surgery in May and take the summer to recover hoping I’d be ready for ski season.
Knowing it was possible I could return to normal activity at 12 weeks meant I might still get to enjoy some favorite summer activities.
As for when you can return to regular activity (and what activities you can participate in), it is different for everyone.
In my case, I didn’t do a whole lot those first couple weeks after surgery. I took my dog on short walks (about a block at a time) and I did some TV yoga most days (avoiding poses that put pressure on the balls of my feet or toes).
Over time I was able to incorporate the following activities:
- Week 3: Biking on flat roads in my surgical boots
- Week 8: Mountain biking, beginner trails (not clipped in)
- Week 9: Brisk walking up to a mile
- Week 11: Hiking (7-mile Colorado “moderate” hike)
- Week 12: Backyard soccer with my kids…no pain when striking the ball!
What is the Success Rate of Bunion Surgery?
According to my doctor (not this guy), there’s a 90% success rate and a 10% recurrence rate over 10 years. Keeping up with exercises and choosing proper footwear can help maintain results from surgery.
Given my positive experience, I would do the procedure again 10 years from now if I have to.
What Are the Potential Complications of Bunion Surgery?
Of course, there’s potential risks any time you go under the knife. In the case of minimally invasive bunion surgery, risks include infection, blood clots, big toe joint stiffness, and bunion recurrence, to name a few. With traditional bunion surgery these risks are greater.
I personally didn’t have any complications with my surgery and recovery. I did, however, have a couple of frustrations.
On Day 9, I started feeling a lot of pain in both feet. It felt like the temporary pins, the end of which protruded from the upper incision in each foot, were loose and driving into the side of my big toe with every step I took.
Turns out that’s exactly what was happening!
Apparently my bones healed quickly and caused the pins to become loose despite being wrapped pretty snuggly. We weren’t able to address this until the 2-week appointment (due to my own travel). So I was pretty grumpy for five days.
Once the doctor pulled out the pins I felt immediate relief.
I am not sure if this contributed to the extended period of swelling I experienced, but I did have to stick with the boots for an extra week.
Would I Have Bunion Surgery Again?
Yes! That is, I would have minimally invasive bunion surgery again!
Though my final X-rays (above) show there’s still some healing to do, my bunions are gone, the three scars are nearly invisible (below), and I am back to normal activities.
At 12 weeks!
So go have that consultation you’ve been putting off and consider taking care of those bunions.
There is no need to wait until you’re in agony. And you don’t have to block off months for recovery.
What are you waiting for?