A bunionectomy can provide relief from painful bunions that do not respond to other types of treatment. The biggest step in the recovery period will be learning to walk again and rebuilding range of motion..
If you’re suffering from bunions, you know what they’re like: These bumps on your big toe joint are causing considerable discomfort. In some cases, your doctor will recommend undergoing a bunionectomy, or bunion surgery, to correct the bump and relieve your chronic pain. An orthopedic surgeon may use different kinds of procedures to complete a bunionectomy, such as removing the bump or realigning your toe joint, depending on the size and shape of your bunion. But no matter which surgical route chosen, the steps it takes to start walking again comfortably afterwards will take up a large part of your recovery period. If you are considering having this surgery done, it is important to prepare yourself for the bunionectomy recovery period, too.
Bunionectomy Recovery Timeframe
Healing from a bunionectomy generally takes several weeks or even months if the bunion was a larger one that required more complex surgery. Every case is different, making communication with your doctor even more important. In general, you can expect the following timeframe following your procedure:
- First few days after surgery: You can take prescription pain medication for discomfort and be instructed to keep your foot elevated with an ice pack to reduce swelling during this time. You will also need to follow your doctor’s instructions about caring for the surgical site to prevent infection. Surgical wound dressings should be changed according to the schedule set by your surgeon to make sure you’re healing properly.
- Two weeks after surgery: This is when your sutures are usually taken out. Your surgeon will examine the surgical site and make recommendations to continue your recovery from the bunionectomy.
- Six to 12 weeks after surgery: Up until this time, you can expect to have dressings on for support and/or wear a foot brace. By six weeks, your bones should be set in place, but this can take longer if you have underlying medical conditions or if you smoke. If you notice signs of infection, or if your surgical wound isn’t healing well, you could be trying to walk again too soon. Schedule a consultation with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Two months to one year after surgery: Your doctor will want to see you for follow-up visits to make sure that your bones are fully healed. During this time, you should follow your doctor’s advice on which types of shoes are suitable for you to wear, how you can start walking and bearing weight, and what kind of physical activity you can do.
Bearing Weight on Your Recovering Feet
Depending on the type of procedure you have for your bunions, you might be able to put a limited amount of weight on the affected foot in the week following surgery. Keep in mind that you will still most likely wear special shoes that help your bones stay in place while they heal. This is crucial to a positive surgical outcome. However, bunionectomies for larger bunions often have a recovery period that requires avoiding putting any weight on the affected foot in order to allow the bones to heal. During this time, you might have to use an assistive device for support, such as crutches. Depending on the type of surgical hardware and techniques used for larger bunions, you might be able to walk after surgery without having to rely on crutches or wear a cast or boot.
The type of footwear you can have on after surgery depends on how your recovery is going, but you should avoid wearing certain types of shoes even if your foot seems to be in good condition. Athletic shoes and other shoes that provide comfort and support are typically suitable to wear. However, avoid wearing any shoes that fit tightly or put your foot in an awkward position. Wearing the wrong shoes can increase your risk of having complications. Throughout the recovery process following your bunionectomy, keeping up with your treatment plan and your doctor’s visits is the best way to understand when and how you can start returning to any weight-bearing activities.
Physical Therapy After a Bunionectomy
Part of learning to walk again is rebuilding your strength and flexibility. To do so, your doctor might recommend physical therapy as part of your bunionectomy recovery plan. Physical therapy can help improve your range of motion and ensure that you have strong and healthy muscles in your foot and ankle. A physical therapist will teach you how to do stretches and other exercises that focus on strengthening your foot and ankle.
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