Bunion Surgery: Not Preferred, But Sometimes Necessary

by | Apr 23, 2019

For a lot of podiatrists and orthopedists out there, treatment for bunions begins and ends with surgery.

Admittedly, there is a certain logic to that approach. Bunions do tend to get worse over time, and a lot of people don’t even bother seeing a doctor until the pain is extreme anyway. Why not just cut to the chase?

While we understand that way of thinking, we don’t share it.

Don’t get us wrong here. There are absolutely times when surgery is the right call. And Dr. Anderson performs surgery very regularly. Sometimes there’s just no other way to get you back to the things you love.

But in our view, surgery should always be a last resort. We’d prefer to do everything in our power to avoid that outcome if we can first—and we know our patients really appreciate it!

What Is the Goal of Bunion Treatment, Anyway?

Let’s start by establishing some hard truths about bunions and bunion treatment.

Number one, bunions are a progressive condition. Once that bump starts growing, it doesn’t go away on its own. Over time, especially if the causes of the bunion aren’t addressed, it will only get larger, more painful, and more arthritic.

Number two, surgery is the only way to fundamentally correct the problem and realign the foot. No amount of stretching, resting, or anything else you can do will make the bump that’s already there go away, short of cutting and realigning the bones themselves.

Given these facts, you can probably see why so many podiatrists jump straight to surgery.

But hold up a minute.

When you get right down to it, what’s the real goal of bunion treatment—or in fact the treatment of any condition?

Simply put, the goal is to ensure that you can live an active, pain-free life without significant restriction.

Or in other words, treatment is “successful” when you are able to live your desired lifestyle, complete your daily activities and enjoy your favorite hobbies unencumbered by bunion symptoms.

And the truth is that bunion surgery is not always strictly required to achieve these goals.

Successful Conservative Treatments

Pro tip for those who are just beginning to notice a bunion forming on one or both feet:

You are much more likely to substantially delay or prevent surgery if you come see us about your bunions as early as possible.

Remember how we said that bunions are progressive and tend to get worse over time, especially if the causes aren’t addressed?

Well, we can often help you address those causes and manage the pain.

There are a variety of nonsurgical options that can significantly improve your quality of life and, in some cases, dramatically slow further progression of the bunion deformity. They include:

  • New shoes. Most obviously, you’re going to want pairs that are roomy in the toe box area, so your toes aren’t being pinched and your shoes aren’t rubbing uncomfortably against the bunion itself. If need be, we can also help you determine a size, shape, and other supportive features that can help you reduce pressure on the afflicted joint.
  • Custom orthotics. The underlying cause of your bunion might be a fundamental imbalance in the way that you walk, or the way that the shape of your foot or arch distributes weight across the foot. In such cases, custom orthotics specifically designed to correct or accommodate these imbalances can eliminate the major factor causing your bunion to get worse.
  • Taping or splinting. If your toe joint is still fairly flexible, you can often relieve symptoms by manually realigning the toe and keeping it in place via taping, bunion splints, toe spacers, or other tools. Some work best during the day; others are meant to be worn at night. We can help you find a strategy that’s effective and comfortable for you.
  • Physical therapy. No, PT won’t make your bunion go away. But there are still benefits to stretching and strengthening exercises for feet and toes if you have a bunion. These benefits include reducing painful symptoms, improving flexibility in an arthritic joint, and even strengthening the supporting structures to help them resist further misalignment in the joint.

Through use of these and potentially other treatment strategies, many mild-to-moderate bunions can be managed to the point where they are no longer interfering with your preferred lifestyle.

When Bunion Surgery IS Necessary

Unfortunately, conservative treatments don’t always work—especially if your bunion is already severe.

Furthermore, even conservative treatments that do work don’t always work forever. You may be able to slow the bunion’s progression and delay surgery, but you can’t always completely stop it from getting worse. Sooner or later, the time may come when surgery is your best remaining option.

How do you know when you’ve reached that point? The considerations here are usually pretty straightforward.

  • Pain or dysfunction is a major obstacle. This means different things to different people, of course. But we’d typically define it as discomfort that is either a daily occurrence when performing normal activities, or occurs during specific activities that you value (for example, running or playing tennis), and is severe enough to make those activities difficult or impossible to perform comfortably.
  • Nonsurgical treatments do not work, or no longer work. Conservative treatments are almost always the preferred choice, and worth pursuing if we think there’s a chance they’ll work for you. So in general, before we consider surgery, we’d usually recommend you exhaust all reasonable nonsurgical options first for a minimum length of time. If you’re still in pain, then let’s talk surgery.

One thing we do want to make clear—while we do consider surgery to be a last resort, that doesn’t mean surgery is a bad option overall.

On the contrary, bunion surgery is one of the most highly successful surgeries we perform, with patient satisfaction rates well over 90 percent.

In short, when nothing else can provide the relief you need, bunion surgery almost always can.

It is, of course, a much more invasive treatment that will require more preparation, more downtime where you can’t fully bear weight or engage in full athletic activities, and very disciplined post-surgical care at home in order to achieve the best possible results. So for those and other reasons, we’d still rather avoid it if we can.

But you can at least rest easy knowing that you’re in great surgical hands with Dr. Mikol Anderson. Our team employs a variety of advanced surgical procedures and can select an appropriate surgical plan for your unique needs—and then make sure you have all the information and support you need to care for your surgically repaired foot while it is healing.

So if you’ve got a bunion, don’t be afraid to schedule your appointment! Seeing the doctor as early as possible can only help you in the long run. We’ll do everything we can to avoid surgery if possible, but we’ll always pursue the treatment option we think is best and is going to give you the best chance to live life to the fullest, for the long haul.

To book your appointment with Anderson Foot and Ankle at our office in Salt Lake City, please give us a call at (801) 269-9939. You can also request an appointment online using the contact form on this website.

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