What is bunion surgery?
Bunion surgery is done to reduce the pain and correct the deformity caused by a bunion.
A bunion (hallux valgus) is a deformity of the bone or tissue around the joint at
the base of the big toe or at the base of the little toe. The one at the small toe
is called a "bunionette" or "tailor's bunion." Bunions often form when the joint is
stressed for a long time. Most bunions form in women, mainly because women may be
more likely to wear tight, pointed, and confining shoes. Bunions may be inherited
as a family trait. Bunions may also result from arthritis. This often affects the
big toe joint.
Your healthcare provider may first advise wearing comfortable, well-fitting footwear.
This means shoes that conform to the shape of your foot and don't put pressure on
any areas. They may also suggest using splints and orthotics. These are special shoe
inserts shaped to your feet. These can reposition the big toe and provide padding.
For bunions caused by arthritis, medicines may help reduce pain and swelling.
If these treatments don’t help, your healthcare provider may advise surgery. This
often solves the problem. The goal of surgery is to relieve pain and correct as much
deformity as possible. The surgery is not cosmetic. It is not meant to improve how
the foot looks.
The type of surgery done depends on factors such as:
Other factors for the choice of a procedure include:
Mild bunion. For this type of surgery, the surgeon may remove the enlarged portion of bone. They
may realign the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joint.
Moderate bunion. The surgeon may cut the bone and shift it to its correct position. This depends on
the severity and location of the deformity. The tendons and ligaments around the area
may also need to be repositioned.
Severe bunion. Surgery may be done to remove the enlarged portion of the bone, cut and realign the
bone, and correct the position of the tendons and ligaments.
Arthritic bunion or big toe joint. With arthritis, the joint may be damaged beyond repair. In this case, it may need
to be fused. This lets the bones heal together. It stops movement and pain. In some
cases, joint replacement implants may be used to rebuild the big toe joint.
Why might I need bunion surgery?
You may need bunion surgery if you have any of the below:
Severe foot pain even when walking or wearing flat, comfortable shoes
Chronic big toe inflammation and swelling not helped with rest or medicines
Bending of the big toe toward the small toe
Inability to bend and straighten the big toe
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to advise bunion surgery.
What are the risks of bunion surgery?
All surgery has risks. Risks of this kind of surgery include:
Other complications may include:
There may be other risks. This depends on your health condition. Discuss any concerns
with your healthcare provider before the procedure.
How do I get ready for bunion surgery?
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions that
you have about the procedure.
You will be asked to sign a consent form. This gives your permission to do the procedure.
Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history. They will give you a
complete physical exam. This is to make sure that you are in good health before having
the procedure. You may have blood tests or other tests.
Tell your healthcare provider if you are sensitive to or are allergic to any medicines.
This includes latex, tape, and anesthetic agents (local and general).
Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements
that you are taking. This includes prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of bleeding disorders. Tell them
if you are taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medicines, aspirin, or other
medicines that affect blood clotting. You may need to stop these medicines before
If you are pregnant or think you could be, tell your healthcare provider.
Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before the procedure.
You may get a sedative before the procedure. This is to help you relax. Because it
may make you drowsy, you will need to plan to have someone to drive you home.
Based on your medical condition, your healthcare provider may request other specific
What happens during bunion surgery?
Bunion surgery may be done on an outpatient basis. This means you go home the same
day. In rare cases, you may stay overnight in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending
on your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.
Most bunion surgery is done under ankle block anesthesia. This means your foot is
numb, but you are awake. In some cases, general or spinal anesthesia is used.
Bunion surgery often follows this process:
You will be asked to remove clothing and will be given a medical gown to wear.
An IV (intravenous) line may be started in your arm or hand.
The skin over the bunion will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
If a local anesthetic is used, you will feel a needle stick when the anesthetic is
injected. This may cause a brief stinging feeling. If general anesthesia is used,
you will be put to sleep using IV medicine.
The surgeon will cut, realign, and possibly remove portions of bone, ligaments, and
tendons of the affected foot based upon the severity of the bunion.
The surgeon will close the opening with stitches and apply a sterile bandage or dressing.
What happens after bunion surgery?
After your surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room. Your recovery process
will vary depending on the type of anesthesia you had. The blood flow and feeling
in the foot will be monitored. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are
stable and you are alert, you will be taken to a hospital room or discharged to your
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions for caring for your foot
at home during the first few weeks after surgery. You may be discharged from the hospital
wearing a special surgical shoe or cast to protect your foot.
Once you are at home, you will need to rest. Keep your foot raised (elevated) on 1
or 2 pillows. This is to help reduce pain and swelling. Your healthcare provider may
also advise that you apply ice and limit walking. You may be advised to use a cane
or walker after surgery.
It's important to keep the dressing clean and dry. Cover the dressing with a plastic
bag or plastic wrap and tape it with plastic tape when showering. Or take a sponge
bath. The stitches will be removed during a follow-up visit. This is generally scheduled
for 2 weeks after surgery.
Take a pain reliever for soreness as advised by your healthcare provider. Aspirin
or certain other pain medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take
only approved medicines. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotics.
This is to help prevent infection after your surgery.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of these:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Redness, swelling, bleeding, or other fluid leaking from the incision site
Pain around the incision site that gets worse
Swelling in lower leg of the affected foot
Your healthcare provider will advise you about safe activities after surgery. Your
foot may need ongoing support from dressings or a brace for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.
You may need to not drive for a week or more after surgery.
Exercises or physical therapy may be advised to help your foot recover its strength
and range of motion after surgery. Don't wear high heels for at least 6 months after
Your healthcare provider may give you additional or alternate instructions after the
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure