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Bunion Surgery: What to Expect; Procedure, Impact; Recovery

You may wonder why I’m writing about my bunion operation in a fitness and wellness blog…it’s certainly not the sexiest topic to bring to the table, but I do believe there’s an importance to it. For one, it’s a crazily common issue for women to have as we age and it’s also an operation that albeit seems quite small, has a huge impact on the body and mind as a whole.

Let’s start with what exactly is a bunion. For the layman, it’s an unsightly lump of bone that juts out from the big toe joint; often it looks red and sore and the big toe itself has been pushed inwards into the second toe. Needless to say it’s not pretty and more importantly, it can be seriously painful. The distortion of the toe means that over time, the bones on the front of the feet have moved and the toe is no longer sitting straight in the joint; movement can be limited and shoes can be uncomfortable.

The medical name for it is hallux valgus, and aside from sounding like an evil spell in a Harry Potter book, is described as a ‘progressive foot deformity in which the first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint is affected and is often accompanied by significant functional disability, foot pain, and reduced quality of life’.

For me personally, I believe that my bunion started as a result of me wearing high heels in my late teens, all through my 20’s and early 30’s. Being short, I felt heels were the answer to height insecurity; it was rare to see me in a flat, comfortable shoe unless I was exercising. Over time, as you’d expect, the bunion grew, my pain increased and it became clear to me that if I was to feed my love of hiking and fitness, the bunion would have to go. That coupled with my boyfriend Ray getting fed up of rubbing it every night as I moaned about the pain.

It was Ray who booked me a consultation with a surgeon he was that bored of the bunion! I was actually anti any form of operation as I had heard such horror stories about success rates and recovery time. As much as I was in pain, I wasn’t willing to take the risk on an invasive surgery where they used screws to rectify the toe joint and with a long recovery time of up to 6 months or more.

Ray however had researched a clinic on Harley Street and found a bunion specialist who talked about corrective, minimally invasive surgery that produces the best results without any metal or screws required. I was hesitant, but I took the call and I agreed to go in for a consultation.

So what happened next?

1. The initial assessment is an x-ray and discussion with the surgeon. Are you eligible for the treatment? How bad is your bunion? etc. We talked abut the procedure and how his process is unique: no screws, walk out of the hospital, in a normal trainer in 4 weeks, back running in 3 months. Ultimately I felt good enough about it to go ahead, it did need sorting and this seemed like the best option out there.

2. The surgery itself is about 30 minutes, however preparing for the surgery with the anaesthetic takes about an hour.

3. The anaesthetic was local, in my case a full ankle block – quite painful as they inject you in the 5 nerve spots around the ankle which numbs the whole foot. It lasts for about 24 hours as well so helps with some of the pain management immediately afterwards.

4. I’m squeamish so I haven’t watched any videos around this but you can find them on the internet. During the surgery, the surgeon breaks your foot at the first metatarsal and repositions the toe back into the original joint position so the toe is straight again.

5. With keyhole surgery, he then uses a drill to file off the additional bone that has pushed out to the side of the foot. You can’t see it happening, but you can feel it and hear it. Even with a numb foot, you can feel a heaviness and the tugging of the toe as he moves it back into position. It doesn’t hurt, but I suggest deep breaths and trying to think about something else whilst this is happening!

6. The surgeon uses a special bandaging process to hold the foot tight in it’s new position. You then get off the table with your foot in a large open surgical sandal and stand on it, walk to the wheelchair and get in.

Day 1, home following procedure

7. Following a cup of tea and a biscuit, you get up and walk out of the hospital and go home. This is the crazy part – they expect you to walk on it straight away and start getting movement into the joint.

4 day post procedure, walk to Starbucks 0.4 miles away

8. A month later, you return to have the bandage removed and are shown how to tape the foot up daily. You now can wear a thick soled trainer and try to walk as normally as possible.

3 weeks post procedure - bandage removal day

9. A month after that you stop the taping and return for the final X-ray to see how it has settled. All being well, the rest is really just about taking the time for flexibility exercises and ensuring you continue to work the joint to prevent stiffness and increase mobility.

The most frustrating part for me during these recovery months was the lack of ability I had to exercise or workout. Even going for a short walk was challenging and it felt like I had gone from 100% (climbing Kilimanjaro) to 0% – sitting on my sofa with my foot in the air and hobbling to the Post Office at a push!

1.5 Months post procedure

As we are now in January, it’s been 2 months since the operation and I’m getting back on track slowly but surely. I’m not running or doing fast-paced cardio, but I am able to do all weights and resistance training as well as use some cardio machines like the bike and the rower. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I know that in the long term it will be so worth it as the pain subsides and I can do proper lunges again. Plus the benefit of my foot looking more pleasant in a flip flop!

2.5 months post procedure

If you have a bunion and are considering a procedure, I would certainly recommend the clinic I went to. The horror stories I’ve heard from other procedures are not worth thinking about – having metal screws in your toe joint can simply cause more harm than good and the recovery can take months and months, taking it’s toll physically and emotionally.

What we can’t underestimate is how much the big toe movement and flexibility impacts our entire kinetic chain – i.e. the way any toe issues will impact ankle movement, which impacts the knee, the hip, the shoulders etc. Over time, this can cause major problems on all these other joints, overall posture and physical health.

As someone who never looked after her feet properly, I am now a firm believe that they are one of the most important parts of our body. I still plan to wear heels now and again and have some lovely shoes I’m excited to dig out of the wardrobe. With age I’ve made peace with being petite and also found a new love for comfy trainers (useful for my job!), so hoping this is the last foot operation I’ll need in this lifetime 😊

Follow me on Instagram for more information on the bunion recovery and much more @georgie_lifebodyhealth

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