What is a Bunionectomy?

Mary McMahon

A bunionectomy is a surgical procedure in which a bunion is removed. Bunions are enlargements of the joint in the big toe which cause the big toe to bow outwards while the area around the joint becomes swollen and inflamed. They can be extremely painful, and they can inhibit the ability to walk normally. People usually seek a bunionectomy when a bunion has become especially painful or difficult to live with, although there are some alternatives which can sometimes address mild bunions, such as wearing specially fitted shoes.

Bunions are removed in a bunionectomy.
Bunions are removed in a bunionectomy.

Numerous surgical techniques can be used in a bunionectomy, depending on the surgeon's preference and the nature of the patient's deformity. This surgery can be performed by a podiatric surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, or a general surgeon. It is usually an outpatient or ambulatory procedure, in which the patient is allowed to go home on the same day as the surgery, unless he or she develops significant complications or the procedure is especially complex.

It's often required to wear a cast for two weeks following a bunionectomy.
It's often required to wear a cast for two weeks following a bunionectomy.

In a bunionectomy, the patient often receives a type of anesthesia known as an ankle block, and a mild sedative which allows the patient to stay awake, but calm, during the surgery. The surgeon makes an incision around the enlarged joint and removes excess material while reshaping the joint. Sometimes the joint needs to be stabilized with pins or screws, and in some patients, it may be necessary to insert an artificial joint during the surgery. Once the surgeon's work is done, the incision is closed, and the patient is taken to recovery.

Getting a bunionectomy will not necessarily mean that the pain and discomfort of a bunion will be resolved. Patients are also at risk of infection, especially if the surgeon needs to insert foreign material into the joint to stabilize it. Patients seeking this surgery should find a surgeon with a good performance record, and they may want to ask for the opportunity to speak with other surgical patients to learn about their experiences.

It can take up to a year to fully heal after a bunionectomy surgery. Usually the patient needs to stay off the involved foot for at least two weeks after surgery, and it may be necessary to wear braces, casts, or specialized shoes during the healing process. Pins can be left in for up to six months, which can make bunionectomy recovery a cumbersome process. When weighing the options for the treatment of a bunion, patients should ask a surgeon about how long recovery will take in their particular case, and what to expect from recovery.

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