Nobody likes hearing that surgery is the only way forward to eliminating bunion pain. In fact, some people are so afraid of the possibility that they’ll put off consulting with an expert as long as they possibly can.
(Trust us: this approach never pays off.)
What you might not know is that, despite all our advanced training in foot and ankle surgery, we’d generally prefer to not prescribe surgery for bunions, either. In fact, one of our promises to patient is that we’ll exhaust conservative options first and only choose surgery as a last resort.
But how are you able to tell when you’ve reached that point? It looks a little different for everyone, but there are some clear guidelines.
The Good News and the Bad News
We’ll start with the bad news.
Truthfully, most (although not all) people who develop a bunion will eventually need to get surgery sooner or later. It’s an ultimate consequence that’s hard to avoid, given the nature of how bunions develop.
To summarize, bunions are progressive deformities that are usually caused, on a fundamental level, by a mechanical or structural imbalance within your feet themselves. And besides surgery, there’s nothing you can do on your own to make them go away or even get smaller. They will only get worse.
Now, here’s the good news.
If you start making an early, consistent effort to control and manage your bunions before they get massive and painful, you could have a great deal of control over how quickly they progress and how severely they affect your day-to-day life.
Will you be able to avoid surgery forever? Maybe, maybe not.
But either way, chances are good that you’ll at least be able to slow down the pace that your bunions get worse, and limit the amount of pain they cause you. And that means you may be able to keep living your life on your terms for many more years before surgery enters the picture.
The Big Question
As we said, the “tipping point” where surgery becomes the best option for your bunion will be a little different for each person. But for the most part, it really comes down to how you can answer the following simple question:
How Is My Bunion Affecting My Daily Quality of Life?
If the answer to that question is “not very much” or “a little,” then we’re probably going to encourage you to stick with conservative treatment options if you can. (We’ll definitely want to examine your feet and hear about the options you’ve already tried, so we can make additional recommendations.)
If the answer to that question is “a lot,” then it’s probably time for surgery—although if you haven’t exhausted conservative options first, you may still have a few possible alternatives.
Some Real-Life Examples
We’ll spell this out a little more.
Let’s say your bunion pain is only mild-to-moderate, only occurs occasionally, and not really getting in the way of your day-to-day activities or favorite hobbies. You are still able to wear normal shoes, too.
In our opinion, there’s no need for surgery at this stage. Simple measures such as wearing roomier shoes or the right set of custom orthotics are probably all you need, aside from maybe taking an NSAID once in a while for those rare-ish occasions when the pain becomes temporarily more noticeable.
While it’s possible that the mere sight of the bunion may be unpleasant for you, we do not recommend bunion surgery for purely aesthetic reasons. Although bunion surgery does have an excellent track record for safety and success, looks alone generally aren’t a good enough reason to take the risk.
Your bunion is large and the big toe is badly misaligned. You’re dealing with severe, daily pain. None of your shoes fit, and you’re developing corns or even blisters at the places where your toes and feet rub against each other and your shoe. You’ve given up on many of your favorite activities.
In this case, surgery is almost certainly your only good option left. Even if there are some conservative treatments you haven’t tried, they are unlikely to be successful this late in the game.
Those scenarios were both pretty easy, so let’s try a harder one.
When it comes to daily tasks like walking, performing your work responsibilities, doing chores around the house, etc., your bunion really isn’t bothering you all that much. However, you love to run a couple of times per week and play tennis with your friends on the weekends, and those tasks have become quite painful due to your bunion.
The best choice in this scenario really will depend on what conservative remedies you’ve already attempted, as well as how important these specific hobbies are to your quality of life.
It may be possible to reduce your pain by changing the way you run, or by changing sports to something that isn’t painful. And if that’s an acceptable compromise that you feel you could be happy with, that may be the route you choose to go. But if running and tennis are truly important for your happiness, then surgery may be worth it to you.
Helping You Make the Right Choice
At Canyon Foot + Ankle, we are never, ever going to push you toward surgery or any other specific treatment unless we feel it’s truly necessary, or the only choice.
Our goal is simply to present your options, explain the pros and cons of each, and give you the information you need to make the decision that makes the most sense for your lifestyle.
It should give you peace of mind to know that Dr. Pilling is a highly accomplished foot surgeon with extensive training and experience in fixing bunions—but he’s just as passionate about providing cutting-edge non-surgical treatment options such as laser therapy and custom orthotics.
The best decision you can make regarding your bunion care is to simply contact our office and set up an appointment. Don’t wait until the pain starts intruding on your daily life. The earlier you seek our help, the more likely we can help you keep the pain away without surgery for as long as possible.