Your bunion has gone from an annoyance to a constant source of pain. You’ve tried everything from pads and splints to specialty shoes to relieve bunion pain without surgery. But every day it seems like it’s getting harder to avoid pain and discomfort.

So, is it time for bunion surgery?

Below, we explain what bunion surgery is, when and why it’s done, possible risks, and what you can expect during recovery.

What is bunion surgery?

Bunion surgery involves the removal or realignment of your toe joint’s soft tissue and bone. Usually, your foot and ankle surgeon will make an incision in the top or side of the toe joint. Then, depending on the type of surgery you’re having, surgeons may work to remove bone lumps, realign bones or fuse joints together, using screws or plates to hold bones in place.

When is bunion removal surgery usually recommended?

Bunion removal surgery is typically done for two reasons:

  • Nonsurgical treatments are losing their effectiveness or no longer working to manage bunion pain.
  • The pain, size or shape of the bunion is affecting your daily life, making it hard to do everyday activities.

Does bunion surgery actually work?

How well bunion removal surgery works for you will depend on a variety of factors such as the type of surgery you have and how bad your bunion is. But many people find that bunion surgery reduces joint pain, improves toe mobility, and makes it easier to walk and resume normal daily activities. And once post-surgery swelling has gone down, toes often look more normal than they did before.

Here’s an example of what a foot typically looks like after bunion surgery. The bunion will be greatly reduced in size, so your foot will likely look the way it did before the bunion developed.

What are the different types of bunion surgery?

There are more than 100 surgeries for bunions – and more than one procedure may be done at the same time. Some of the most common surgeries include:

  • Exostectomy or bunionectomy – These procedures involve removing part of the metatarsal head, which is the bunion bump that bulges out from the toe joint.
  • Realignment procedures – The big toe often turns in as a bunion grows, which is often the major source of pain. Realigning bones (osteotomy) or ligaments helps restore toes to their normal position to relieve pain.
  • Fusion surgeries – A fusion surgery helps stop the movement between two bones, helping reduce pain. Two common fusion surgeries for bunions are:
    • Arthrodesis to fuse the bones that form the big toe joint
    • Lapidus procedure to fuse the joint between the metatarsal bone and the mid-foot
  • Implant – An implant procedure involves replacing part or all of the damaged toe joint with an artificial joint.

How long does bunion surgery take?

The amount of time bunion surgery takes depends on a few different factors, including the type of surgery you’re having and whether multiple procedures are being done at the same time.

Typically, you can expect the surgery itself to take an hour or more, but you’ll be at the hospital or surgery center for a couple of hours before and after your procedure. Bunion surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure, which means you’ll go home to recover on the same day as your surgery.

Is bunion surgery painful?

No, the surgery itself isn’t painful. A local anesthetic will be used to numb your foot so you don’t feel pain. You will also be given a sedative to help make you more comfortable.

How much does bunion surgery cost?

The average cost of bunion surgery in the United States can range anywhere between $3,500 and $12,000 or more. But your actual out-of-pocket cost may be far less.

Bunion surgery costs depend on the type of surgery you have, where you have the procedure, your health insurance or Medicare coverage, and more. Generally, if your bunion pain is leading to physical limitations, and surgery is deemed medically necessary by your podiatrist, insurance will cover the procedure. But how much your insurance will cover depends on the plan you have.

What are the risks of bunion surgery?

Bunion surgery is common, and the likelihood of serious complications is low. But like every surgery, bunion removal does come with risks.

Some surgery risks include infection, a reaction to anesthesia, and bleeding. Other risks specific to bunion surgery can include the recurrence of a bunion, decreased sensation, or tingling, numbness or burning in the toe, stiffness, arthritis and more.

Your care team will walk you through potential risks before surgery as well as the steps being taken to reduce them.

How long does it take to recover from bunion surgery?

Bunion surgery recovery time depends on the type of surgery you have, your overall health and other factors. Typically, the initial recovery period is anywhere from six weeks to six months, but complete healing can take up to a year.

As part of your recovery, your surgeon may recommend physical therapy to strengthen foot muscles and improve mobility. But what else can you expect in the first days and weeks after bunion surgery? Here’s a high-level look:

  • Day one of bunion surgery – One of the biggest questions on your mind may be: Can you walk after bunion surgery? And the answer is: Yes, but not without assistive devices like crutches or a scooter. When you leave the hospital or surgery center to begin your recovery, you’ll be wearing a removeable boot cast or special shoe to protect your foot and keep your toe in the right position.
    • How long do you wear a boot after bunion surgery? This protective footwear will be part of your wardrobe for at least three to six weeks after surgery – but could be used for several months. Depending on the type of surgery you had, you’ll be instructed to keep some or all the weight off the affected foot – which is why you’ll need assistive devices to help you get around.
  • The first week after bunion surgery – You’ll notice some discomfort, pain and swelling as your foot begins to heal after surgery. To relieve pain and swelling, and speed recovery, you’ll likely be instructed to keep your foot elevated as much as possible throughout the day and to apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes a few times per day.
  • One to three weeks after bunion surgery – Pain and swelling are likely decreasing with each passing day, and you may be spending less time with your foot elevated. While your boot or special shoe is still around, you can expect to get any stitches removed seven to 21 days after surgery.
  • Four to six weeks after bunion surgery – If you’ve been wearing a boot or cast, you may be able to switch to comfortable shoes that have enough room for remaining swelling. And your activity levels can increase as you feel better.
  • Six to 12 weeks after bunion surgery – If you didn’t have to complete a no-weight-bearing period during recovery, most activities can be resumed around six or eight weeks. But if you did, this may be the end of that period and the start of you being able to put some weight on your foot.

Is bunion surgery right for you? Talk with a podiatrist.

Surgery is the only way to remove bunions after they form and become a problem. If the nonsurgical treatments you’re using have stopped working or are becoming less effective, and the pain has started to impact your ability to perform daily activities, surgery may be an option.

If you’re wondering if surgery makes sense, talk with a podiatrist. Most podiatrists are also foot and ankle surgeons who can perform the procedure and provide follow-up care. And those who aren’t surgeons can refer you to colleagues who are.