Even if you have surgery and you get a perfect result, if you are not doing these things and wearing proper shoes after the surgery - you are setting yourself up for more foot problems and a higher risk of the problem coming back. Yes, bunions can reoccur - even after a successful surgery.
A common misconception of foot surgery is that, after the surgery, you are going to have a normal foot that is cosmetically pleasing. Of course, that is the desired outcome but in reality - the goal of foot surgery is to have a non-painful and cosmetically pleasing foot that functions well in proper shoegear and orthotics.
I've been running an unoffical patient survey for years. I ask patients who had foot surgery years ago if they were pleased with the outcome and, if they could go back in time, would they do it again. Eighty percent of patients say they are not happy with the outcomes and that it was more painful and took longer to heal then they originally thought and that they would not do it again. About twenty percent of patients are happy with the results and say they would do it again.
3. The only time you should consider elective foot surgery (meaning it is not an emergency situation) is if conservative treatment has failed and you have hit a point where you are having so much pain that you can't do your normal daily activities.
Years ago, an elderly gentleman came into the office for a second opinion on whether or not he should have bunion surgery.
As he was taking off his shoes I asked, "Does your bunion hurt?" When he said that the bunion didn't hurt, I said, "Then don't have surgery." He started laughing and said, "Aren't you going to wait for me to take off my shoes?" I told him that he was eighty-two years old and if his bunions didn't hurt, he doesn't need surgery.
My experience has been that if you do a bunion surgery on an older but active patient and have them elevate and rest their foot for six weeks - that person might like resting too much and might not want to get up and get going after they are healed. If you are active and your bunions don't hurt - let's keep you active and enjoying life.
In medicine, there are exceptions to every rule and there are no guarentees - especially with surgery. When you sign a pre-op consent for any surgical procedure, you are signing that you understand that a possible outcome of the procedure is everything from infection, chronic pain, failure of the implant, disability and possibly death (to name a few).
5. Be proactive and get a second opinion.
If you line up ten different doctors, you are going to get ten different opinions. It's frustrating but true.
As a patient, you have to be proactive. Do your research, ask questions and get a second and even third opinion. A good doctor is not offended or intimidated by a patient getting a second opinion. If your doctor is offended by you getting a second opinion then that is his or her problem. Your decision to have surgery and choose the surgeon is not about their pride - it's about you making the best decision possible and gathering information is an important part of the decision making process.
Because the foot is weight-bearing, recovering from a foot injury or surgery can be frustrating. If you break your nose, it's going to heal much faster than your foot because you are not walking around on your nose.
Hammertoe surgery sounds easy but is one of the more subtle and complex surgeries. It's actually quite easy to do the surgery. What's hard is getting good results. I have a practice full of ladies who had this surgery twenty-plus years ago and are very uphappy with the results. Their toes are not cosmetically pleasing and often still have painful corns and ulcerations.
This may not be the case but you should expect that there is a good chance that this will occur. The best way to prevent this from happening is to be compliant with the post-op plan that your surgeon will reveiw with you. If you are non-compliant and do too much walking and do not enough rest and elevate your foot after the surgery - you dramatically increase the chance of having more pain and swelling.
Of course, you can have the foot surgery and continue to wear poor shoegear but there is a high probability of eventually developing more foot issues and possibly getting a re-occuarnce of the original foot problem.
Think of it like this, if you went through all the time, money and pain of getting a foot surgery - why wouldn't you protect that investment with proper shoes and orthotics?
Not doing so is the equivalent of getting skin cancer and, after getting all the cancerous lesions surgically excised, deciding that you don't need to wear sunscreen.
Protect your investment!
The next time someone tells you their 'nightmare' bunion story - ask them if they did what their surgeon advised them to do. Did they stay in their surgical shoe or CAM Walker for the allotted time? Did they rest, elevate and ice their foot? Did they take the time off from work that was recommended so that the foot would have time to heal? The fair amount of 'nightmare bunion' stories come from patient non-compliance. Did you know that if you have hammertoe surgery and do too much activity or are non-compliant that you can get a complication called 'sausage toe'? Having a toe that looks like a fat, ugly, red sausage is one of the dreaded complications of hammertoe surgery. It's difficult to treat and patients get very upset. The typical response is they want their hammertoe back!
If you have done your homework and found a good surgeon then you have a responsibility to follow post-op protocol so you can get the best possible result. I can't stress this enough - rest and elevate your foot. Stay in the surgical shoe or CAM walker as directed by your surgeon. Take off time from work if you are able.
Overall, if you are compliant - you will get much better results, have less pain and have a more cosmetically pleasing foot.
If I had to have foot surgery, I know exactly who I'm going to!
And you can bet that that Podiatrist is Board Certified.
When I completed my residency, I took the first part of a two part National Surgical Board exam and passed, which made me Board Qualified. Once you are Board Qualified, you have seven years to do 'x' amount of surgeries and put together case reports on each of these. Once you submit the required number of cases, then you do the second part of the exam where you are grilled by other Board Certified Surgeons who test you face to face on the cases that you have submitted. It is a grueling process.
Three years after I became Board Qualified, I faced an ethical question. I wasn't doing enough surgeries. If I wanted to become Board Certified then I had to start doing way more surgeries so that I could get the numbers I needed to be eligible to apply for the second part of the exams. The problem was - how was I supposed to get the numbers that was required unless I started doing surgery on people who I did not think needed surgery?
I came to the conclusion that I would no longer do surgical procedures. I still do simple procedures in the office but I would no longer do the more complex surgeries. Currently, if I have a patient who needs surgery, I will refer them to a Board Certified Surgeon.
Make that Eleven...
Your state board of Podiatry has a websight where you can look up any malpractice cases that are filed against your surgeon. Every surgeon is going to eventually get sued for malpractice - that's just a fact of life for surgeons. But, if your surgeon has an excessive number of malpractice cases - get a second opinion from another surgeon. Ask your Primary Care Physician or other Specialists who he or she would recommend - other doctors are an invaluable source of information.
If I have to leave you with one final thought - do not rush into foot surgery. The only time you should consider foot surgery is if you have reached a point where you have tried everything and nothing works and the pain is so bad that you are unable to do your normal daily activites.
For more information, check out my two articles in this blog, which you can find by using the 'search' box):
"My foot hurts - top ten things to alleviate foot pain today."
"Shoe recommendations for patients recovering from Lisfranc's fractures"
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