According to the Podiatry Institute, bunions are one of the most frequent structural deformities seen in podiatric medicine, with more than 150,000 bunion surgeries performed annually in the United States.
When Athena Staton became unable to wear the shoes she loves (or any shoes for that matter), she turned to Joseph Funk, D.P.M., a board certified foot and ankle surgeon at Orlando Orthopaedic Center. Together, she and Dr. Funk determined bunion surgery was the best option to get her back on her feet and into her shoes.
“Dr. Funk prepared me so well that I actually was able to recover from double bunionectomy virtually pain-free,” says Athena with a smile. “Last night my husband and I went to an impromptu dinner. I was walking around the house in flat sandals, and realized, oh my gosh, I can put on my high heels!”
What is a Bunion?
Patients wearing narrow, tight shoes over long periods of time often develop inflammation affecting the base of the big toe. Gradually, a bony protrusion, called a bunion, may form in the foot, causing the big toe to curve outward and the big toe joint to become enlarged. In Athena’s case, she chose to have a bunionectomy, or a surgical procedure to remove the bunion.
“A bunion changes the bone framework in the front portion of the foot, and as it gets worse, it can fill up with additional bone and fluid, sometimes causing the big toe to angle toward the second toe or to shift underneath it,” says Dr. Funk. “Bursitis or arthritis can also result from the damage if left untreated.”
People with bunions generally experience great discomfort when walking or bearing weight on the foot, especially in constricting shoes. Often, a bunion can seriously impede proper functioning of the foot, and can lead to damage to the other toes as well, in the form of corns, hammertoes, ingrown nails, and calluses.
Bunions can be hereditary, but individuals with lower arches, flat feet and slacker joints are more at risk. Habitually use of high heeled shoes can aggravate the situation, by cramming the toes into a small pointed space. This may well tell us why bunions affect significantly more women than men, by a ratio of ten to one.
Patients with early-stage bunions can pursue a number of non-surgical treatment avenues including:
- Wearing shoes with wide toe boxes, having minimal arch support and minimally or no elevated heels, allowing the feet to spread
- Regular massage and/or range of motion exercises
- Orthotic shoe inserts to recover good balance in the feet
- Wearing a splint while sleeping, to assist in straightening out the toe joint
- Soaking the foot in warm water or placing an ice pack over the bunion
However, individuals suffering from bunions whose unrelenting pain from their inflamed big toe joint becomes too much to bear, like Athena, may need surgical intervention to remove the bunion (a bunionectomy). In fact, Athena had a double bunionectomy performed – meaning bunions on both feet were removed at the same time.
“I couldn’t wear shoes anymore and searched out three different doctors. I found Dr. Funk, realized he was passionate about orthopaedics, and I knew right away that he was the doctor for me,” says Athena.
How is a Bunionectomy Performed?
As with any type of surgery, it’s important to choose an experienced surgeon with whom one has a good rapport and feels comfortable. Athena was impressed with Dr. Funk’s professionalism and attitude from the moment they met.
“Dr. Funk walked into the exam room and the energy in the room immediately changed,” she says. “(He was) very upbeat, very professional. He pulled out my X-rays, and put me immediately at ease. He knew exactly what he was talking about.”
A bunionectomy is an outpatient procedure, meaning patients go home the same day as the surgery. To begin the minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Funk will make an incision at the top of foot in order to remove or shave off, the bony bunion lump. If necessary, the big toe bone may be shortened and the tendons, ligaments and nerves of the joint realigned. The incision will then be closed and the patient will be moved to the recovery area. Typically, patients return home within a few hours of their surgery.
After the success of her surgery, Athena was ecstatic.
“Finally, I’m able to wear the shoes that are in my closet,” she says. “I would buy shoes, put them on in the store, they fit great, they felt great. I’d get home and within twenty minutes, I could no longer wear them. I now can go out with just the shoes on my feet, and not ballet slippers in my bag.”
Recovery Following Bunion Surgery
As with most surgeries, each individual’s recovery time will depend on a number of factors including:
- The severity of the bunion deformity
- The patient’s current health and medical history
“The recovery process was long, as expected,” says Athena. “But Dr. Funk prepared me very well for that.”
As a general rule, most patients will need to use a fracture shoe for four to six weeks after surgery. Some inflammation of the foot can be experienced for up to a few months after the procedure.
After the incision has healed, one’s surgeon may suggest range of motion exercises to improve the foot’s endurance and flexibility. In general, patients are able to resume their daily activities within six to eight weeks after surgery.
The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society has reported that complications were experienced in under ten percent of bunionectomy patients, and that patient responses indicated a 85–90% success rating for the procedure.
After a successful bunionectomy surgery, Athena is eternally grateful to Dr. Funk.
“If you’re like me, and you’re unable to wear shoes and live the lifestyle you like,” says Athena. “If you want to get your life back and get your personality back, then I say call Dr. Funk.”