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Six Months After My Bunion Surgery: Recovery & Coping Strategies

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I had bunion surgery on my left foot exactly six months ago. Compared to some horror stories that I have read online of others who have had the same procedure, I think that I fared pretty well.

If you look at the photos below, you can see the progression of my healing over time. I went from having a gaping hole in my foot that looked like something from an old Frankenstein movie to just having a bit of a blurry scar. Even though my foot was very swollen and sore for quite some time, at this point the swelling has gone down significantly and the soreness is basically non-existent—except at the end of a long day, or right before a rainstorm.

Seven days after bunion surgery.

Seven days after bunion surgery.

Eight weeks after surgery. The very dark area is where the metal pin rubbed against my skin and bruised it.

Eight weeks after surgery. The very dark area is where the metal pin rubbed against my skin and bruised it.

Six months after surgery. The swelling has gone down significantly from the last photo.

Six months after surgery. The swelling has gone down significantly from the last photo.

Removing the Metal Pin Was Painful

The next big event in the recovery process was removing the metal pin that had been holding my toe straight. This procedure was scheduled for six weeks after the surgery, and by all accounts was supposed to be quick and painless. But in my case, this in-office procedure was more traumatic and painful than the surgery itself!

On the day that I went to have the pin removed, the doctor’s assistant at first sprayed the area with an antiseptic that was supposed to double as a slight pain reliever (with “supposed to” being the key phrase here). He then grabbed the end of the pin with something that looked like a pair of needle-nose pliers, and pulled. This is when the pin was supposed to just slide out, but I guess things had been going too easily for me, so it was about time for something to go wrong. As he pulled, the pliers just slipped off of the edge of the pin. The vibration from the pliers slipping off of the pin sent ripples of pain throughout my foot and shivers up my spine.

He grabbed the pin again, and the pliers slipped off again. Every time he pulled it the pin would move just a fraction of an inch, but because it was now wet and slippery from blood, the pliers slipped off more easily each time. After the fourth time he looked at me with sorrowful eyes and said “I am so sorry, I know that I am hurting you, but there is no other way to do this.”

He made two more attempts and then let me take a breather, realizing that that each attempt was causing me excruciating pain. While he waited for me to recover he explained that at some point I must have put too much pressure on my foot before the bone had finished knitting together, because it appeared that I had somehow bent the pin. This explained why it was now so hard for a supposedly straight pin to come out of a straight hole.

After about three more attempts, the pin finally surrendered to our attacks and slid out. Wow, the pain that I felt the moment that the pin came out has got to be somewhere on the level of what I imagine natural child birth to feel like! I had to sit completely still, tightly gripping my foot for about a minute, waiting for the pain to subside. But after a few minutes all was back to normal, so my foot was bandaged and I was sent on my way.

The metal pin inserted to hold my toe straight is visible in this X-ray, six weeks after bunion correction surgery.

The metal pin inserted to hold my toe straight is visible in this X-ray, six weeks after bunion correction surgery.

Coping After Surgery: Stairs, Carts, Parking Permit, Shoes

For those of you who are contemplating going through this procedure, let me pass on a few nuggets of wisdom that I picked up during this experience:

No stairs! At the time of my surgery I lived in a two-story Atlanta townhome where both bedrooms were on the second floor. Thank God that I had enough forethought to move my bed down to the first floor the day before my surgery. No, it wasn’t very fashionable to have a queen-sized bed sitting in the middle of my living room for two months, but there was just no painless way to climb the stairs on a broken foot (and believe me, I tried!). And while you are at it, think about moving other things that you will need closer to your bed (or wherever it is that you will spend most of your time):

  • your medication
  • the remote control
  • a pitcher of water and a glass
  • the telephone and/or cell phone charger
  • the lamp or light controller

Right now you don't might getting up to retrieve these things, but in the first weeks after your surgery, and especially the first few days, getting up for any reason will be the last thing that you will want to do.

Get acquainted with drivable shopping carts. Since you are not supposed to put any weight on your foot for the first few weeks while the bone heals, you won't want to push an ordinary shopping cart around Wal-Mart. Your doctor probably won’t recommend it, and it may lead to your inadvertently bending the metal pin in your foot. (If you don’t understand why that would be bad, you need to re-read the section above where I talk about how painful my pin removal process was!) The drivable carts at the supermarket will allow you to do your shopping (if you must do it yourself) while you stay off of your feet.

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Get some help. Being a single woman who lives alone I usually revel in my independence, but even I have to admit that there are times when it would be nice to have someone around to help with everyday tasks. For example: when you are on crutches, and you are trying to get grocery bags from the car to your front door, or trying to carry a simple plate of food from the kitchen to your table. You really do need both hands for the crutches, so you have no way to carry anything else. If you really don’t have anyone who can help out on a regular basis, be sure to have a cart or basket on wheels handy. That way you can place your grocery bag or plate of food in the cart in front of you and push it from behind while you walk with the crutches.

Get legal parking. Bet you didn’t know that having foot surgery qualifies you as legally “handicapped”, at least temporarily anyway. At my first check up appointment (which was two weeks after my surgery) my doctor gave me a form that I could take to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a Temporary Handicapped parking placard that was good for 6 months. Those handicapped parking spaces really came in handy when I went back to work, especially since I was on crutches and still in quite a bit of pain.

Six months have gone by now so mine will expire in five days, and I will miss it sorely. I don’t necessarily need it anymore as my foot doesn’t usually hurt, but I certainly have grown spoiled by being able to park at the front door of any store or establishment I visit! This will definitely come in handy your first few weeks after surgery, so be sure and ask your doctor for the form.

Flip-flops rule! Even though I am pretty much pain-free at this point, I still have some bad days every now and then. Whenever I try to wear heels that are too high or even flat shoes that are too hard, my foot will start to pain me and I will begin to limp. Or sometimes, when a rainstorm is expected, my foot will throb for some reason (really). What I learned is to keep some flip-flops, sneakers, or other very comfortable shoes in my car, my purse, or my desk drawer at work. There has been many a day that I would gladly have walked barefoot through the streets had I not had my handy flip-flops around. This might be my most useful tip. Believe me, this is huge!

Well, that is all the wealth of my wisdom on the subject of bunion surgery and its recovery. If you are contemplating having this or a similar procedure done, the best advice that I can give you is to think beforehand about how you will get around and get everyday tasks completed. Then make arrangements or put processes in place that will allow you to still get those things done—albeit with some assistance from friends, family, or baskets on wheels.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am having a bunionectomy and my other four toes straightened and so I will pins in all five toes. Will I have medication ?

Answer: Probably. They had me on Ocycofone for the first few days, than I just took Tylenol.

Comments

Lori on July 24, 2019:

I am 12 weeks post. Right after surgery had to go in doctors office next day when the block wore off and the pain meds didn't work had to get another block . they stuck needles in my new surgery I almost fainted but you will do anything to stop that kinda pain. one hour later I was numb again but never had any more pain after that other than the normal. Its a painful surgery and recovery for sure. My toe is still stiff and hurts I get the second foot done in 6 weeks .if it cures the initial pain of having bunions it will be worth it so far its just been trying to get well. Good luck to us all

Lisa on December 26, 2018:

Everyone will have a different experience.

I had both feet done, about four months apart. The first foot remained swollen and was a more difficult recovery...but even so, it was never terrible.

My doctor put me in a walking boot from the very beginning. I was never non-weight bearing. After eight weeks in very boot I was allowed to wear hard soles sneakers for a month and then shoes, as tolerated. Flip flops? For me that was the worst option possible. I needed support and a shoe hat would not move around.

Bottom line, I waited more than 25 years for fear of the procedure. Just do it! Get it over with and move on with a more comfortable life.

maddy on May 10, 2018:

I have had both of my bunion surgically repaired with 3 pens. First one was done when I was 18 and I was in a walking boot for 2.5 months. Mostly because of how active I was in college. I also had a tremendous amount of pain even though I took 2 weeks of and was laying in bed. But within 6 months I was back to running 8 miles. I also had my right bunion surgery done when I was 22 so 6 months ago today. The healing for the second procedure was like night and day. I was so tired of being lazy and relaxing that I would go watch Netflix at the gym on a bike with the boot of course and the doctors permission which was 3 weeks post op. I also was in a boot for 2 months because of I am on my feet all day for work. My advice is each person is different! My identical twin had the same procedure done a few years ago and hers was a breeze compared to mine. She was no pain meds maybe alieeve here and there were I was given opioids thats how painful it was.

Vpm on October 24, 2016:

At 6 mos, my foot and ankle still swells and sometimes throbs.. i put on compression stocking and use my sneakers after 3-4 hours on my regular shoes.. frustrating still

Lilly on October 13, 2016:

I am afraid have buyers remorse can't talk about my experience yet ...very hard at almost 8 wks out.

KathleenC on August 27, 2016:

It is so interesting reading everyone's different experiences. I am 7 wks post op from hammertoe and bunion surgery and was trying to get a feel for when I would be back in normal shoes again. I am wearing a larger sneaker on my left foot to bike ride and do the stair master, only putting pressure on my heal, but it's been so wonderful to exercise again!

For those of you contemplating surgery, I want to say that mine was really not bad at all. I never had any pain to speak of and didn't even need to take the pain meds they insisted I needed. I thought using the crutches and maneuvering around was the biggest challenge because I'm 54. I scooted on my rear end down the steps w what I needed for the day in a bag and yes it was definitely a pain but it was just two weeks and then freedom with the boot! I had a great doctor and great surgical experience and would do it all again!

DanaM on August 12, 2016:

Just had my second bunion surgery in 7 months. The first bunion surgery "failed miserably." Those were my orthopedic surgeon's exact words. I sought other opinions and a podiatrist actually told me to go back to the original surgeon because he knew her work and it was great. I decided to trust her with the revision. All went better than the first time - EXCEPT - word of warning. I had such a powerful nerve block this time (five shots down the back of my leg before i went under general) that my whole leg was flopping like a dead tree branch for two days. I couldn't even get to the bathroom. My son was with me and my husband. My son helped me pick out a Tupperware container as a bedpan and I literally peed in it for two days from the sofa and my husband dumped out the pee. Sounds gross but GIVE UP THE VANITY and do what works! I gave a lady this "tip" when I left my doctor's office today for my 3rd week check. She said it really helped her with her fear of going home after surgery and going to the bathroom.

Mel on August 08, 2016:

Friday will make 3 wks that I had 3 hammer toes and tailor's bunion on both my feet. I have dissolvable pins in my toes for the tailors bunion and a crew in each tailors bunion. My podiatrist wanted me with my feet elevated for 3 days with only bathroom privileges. My most painful day was the 3rd day which was when the local anesthesia wore off aside from the general anesthesia I had on the day of surgery. Last week during my 2 wks post op, my stitches, dressings and post op shoes came off... I wanted to cry when I saw my feet, I looked like a stitched doll, not normal at all. My podiatrist put these tape strips over my incisions and then wrapped each toe he performed surgery and on the incisions from the tailors bunions. They only shoes I'm able to fit in are my Birkenstock sandals, which are some what great because they give me the kind of support I need. From time to time I take alieve to alivate the pain and swelling but I'm becoming soooo frustrated and weepy because every time I elevate my feet and bring them down my feet hurt and it's very difficult to get around... I have a duplex and it's extremely difficult to walk up and down the stairs... My heels hurt from putting the majority of pressure on them. I have had a cane since my surgery and I've tried hiding it so I won't depend on it... After using the seal tight shower protectors since 4 days post op, today was the first day I was able to remove the wraps while still keeping the tapes on went my feet for the first time. This has been the worst physical experience I've put my body through. Will I ever feel normal again?

Betty on July 08, 2016:

I had this done and I would not never ever get this done again if my other foot needs it done!!This was worst than my hip replacement surgery!!

jodew71 on April 14, 2015:

It's been almost 3 years since I had my foot done and I'm so glad I did it. I had my right foot done when I was 16 and my left at 40. During the day I wore the toe splint but at night my foot needed a break so the swelling could go down. I was afraid my toe would go back since I didn't have any pins. The doctor suggested that at night time I put a small spool of thread between my big toe and second toe then put a sock on. Worked perfectly.

My doctor also told me to expect swelling for up to 18 months (or longer). I was still swollen at 18 months but usually only after a long day at work.

bev on April 13, 2015:

Scare to get my foot done don't like pain so scared

hibiscus on February 05, 2015:

I didn't like the way they stitched you up. Only 5 stitches? To me looked like a scary thing as it didn't look like the way I thought it would. I know idk u, and I see ur all better now. When I saw the lazy horrible job they did on stitching ur foot up, it upset me. I am a single mom, and I have a bad bunion I need to get fixed. It is starting to effect my everyday life now. Anyways, I am happy to see the picture of ur food being better!

Although I still don't like the lazy/bad way they stitched ya up. Sorry, but looking at that makes me mad, I hope u got proper dr care.

Simranjit Singh on July 18, 2014:

Hi my foot was fractured in an accident there was 13 stitched on my right foot its starting from upper side near small finger till lower side of the foot now am walking but its not working well after two months bones are painful when am walking from front side from fingers r starting from foot is there any medicine and exercise to walk normally as before

notreehill on May 16, 2014:

Hi Sharon, the first two weeks really are the worst. Hope you were prepared and have someone to help. I had to crawl up and down stairs on hands and knees until I learnt how to manage with crutches, which took about five weeks, then at 6 weeks, didn't need them anymore. It's a long, slow process and one just has to be patient. Guess that's why we are called patients!

Sounds like you need a wheelchair or a walking frame with a seat, same as the old people use. Then all that's needed is a standing transfer to move and turn from the seat to the toilet. Walking frames are narrower than wheelchairs, but be warned, they can overturn and dump you on the floor.

There are no real shortcuts here. It's rest, rest and more rest, keep your feet elevated, take your painkillers. After two weeks you should be able to do more, at least in the mornings. The routine that worked for me was to be up and about for 20 minutes, then lie down with foot up for 2 hours, up again to do the necessary for another 20 mins, then back to lie down again for two hours. After the first two weeks, I could be up most mornings, but after lunch that was it, and I had to lie down with foot up for the rest of the day, quick shower around 5pm, then off to bed for the night. You will work out your own routine and what suits you vs. what needs to be done, like toilet breaks and grabbing a snack.

Best of luck, and keep going. This will pass, but it took me a full year to recover from one foot. Don't forget the foot and ankle exercises. They do help the healing and prevent complications.

Sharon on May 15, 2014:

I had both my feet done on Monday and am in excruciating pain you really don't know how much you rely on your feet going to the toilet is a nightmare I hate the thought of needing to go if I could give any advice it would be to have 1 foot at a time make sure you have help x

Gigi on March 28, 2014:

I had 4 hammer toes and arthrodesis done on my left foot on 3/5/14. The pain has been less than I expected, but the stinging pain I feel at my toe incision sites is crazy. Comes in a hot wave across my toe. Color is good, no increase in swelling, but still have the pins in, will the burning/stinging get better when the pins are removed?

anna on March 10, 2014:

It has been exactly two weeks on 2/24/14 since my surgery. Four days before surgery the doctor and I agreed to have both of my feet done. I really did not have enough time to think about what I was facing having both feet done and how I would get around.

My main concern was how do I get up with both feet wrapped, in pain and how do I go to the restroom? I could not hobble on one foot because both are wrapped and in pain. Well the answer is and I highly recommend a wheel chair, the first week was a nightmare, the thought of getting up made me cringe, having both feet done was difficult getting around but my husband was a great help. I have a high tolerance of pain but this was a difficult challenge, the pain was quite excruciating for the first week, however, it does subside as each day goes by. It has been two weeks, today is 3/10/14 and now I am anxious, I really cannot walk on both of my feet yet because they hurt when I put pressure and my right foot gets really swollen. I have to have more patience and take advantage of the down time because as a mother of three, working, and running my business this should be heaven finally being able to relax. My advise for anyone having bunion surgery is to really really think about having one foot done at a time verses both. Although, I will not have to do this again and recovery is only a one time deal,but the pain of both at the same time is nutty!!!! We take for granted walking on two feet, I am glad to get this over with and I can't wait to have fabulous looking feet!! :)

Bunionfree on March 09, 2014:

I had surgery 2/5/2014 and was very surprised that I had minimal pain. I am almost 5 weeks post op and have began to experience this extreme burning sensation/pain. It wakes me up at night and prevents me from sleeping. It is truly the most uncomfortable pain I've felt throughout this process. Has anyone else experienced this? If so what helped alleviate the pain?

I still cannot put full weight on my foot nor get my foot wet due to a gauze "splint" to help with the big toe alignment.

April on February 02, 2014:

Hi everyone I had surgery done December 30, 2012. it's been exactly one month. My feet are still stiff and I cannot fit out of my regular shoes I will have to go a size up, i'm scared that I won't be able to wear none of my own shoes for about six months. I heard a lot of stories that is true. I'm really scared that I have to wear ugly shoes for months.

April on February 02, 2014:

Hi everyone

notreehill on January 26, 2014:

Hi Polina, normally muscle tissue regenerates in 6-8 weeks with exercise and walking, so don't know why your calf taking so long. Could the nerve or muscle have been damaged? Sounds like you'll need to get a second opinion. Sometimes with bunion surgery if the calf muscle is very tight, e.g., with athletes, part of it might need to be released, so the foot and ankle can function better afterwards.

Polina Belodub from Portland, Oregon on January 25, 2014:

Notreehill, hi...I had a bunion surgery 11 months ago and my calf still haven't filled up. I'm starting to get concerned about it since it's been about 6 months after my last physical therapy session. I did have another incision done on the inside calf muscle and so the muscle started to develop around where it was made, which is on the bottom part of the calf. But my calf still is missing most of it and it feels like loose skin where it shouldn't. Do you have any idea how long it might take? My leg looks "abnormal" LOL compared to the other. Thanks, for the input! ;)

vi4har on January 09, 2014:

I just had bunion surgery as outpatient. They did a pain block from knee down and Anesthesia. I went home a few hours after with pain pills. Slept mostly the first day. day 2 was still numb from knee down so got around with crutches and by the 3rd day, numbness was gong. By the 4th day I was getting around by wearing my special boot until pain, then I would lay down and ice or use crutches. Day 12 got stitches out so I can now shower without covering with a plastic garbage bag. Still a little swollen and sore....but getting around great. stop to elevate as soon as I get home in the eve after work. I am now doing the exercises that the Dr. told me to and am hoping for continued speedy recovery. I did not have a cast at all! just dressing and an ace bandage. I think key is get a GREAT doctor! Mine was highly recommended by about 3 people I know that had it done as well.We will be on vacation in March...so I hope I have no problems by then. Hearing some of these stories...I may not have had it done!

notreehill on December 27, 2013:

Hello Loni, the first two weeks definitely the worst, then should start getting better painwise. What the doctors don't tell us is to lie down as much as possible, with the foot elevated, for those first two weeks. What worked for me was to lie down for 2 hrs, get up for 20mins to do stuff, then back on bed or sofa for another two hours and so on, until the two weeks was up. Even afterwards, the amount of swelling dictated how long I could be up for. Mornings were generally OK, but by 1 or 2pm, I had to get that foot up again for the rest of the day, as the foot so swollen and the cast so tight. That lasted the full six weeks. I started walking at 7 weeks with a very swollen foot, and back to work at 8 weeks, but not really comfortable until about 14 weeks. I was advised to take 8 weeks off work because on my feet a lot, but if yours is a sitting job, you may be able to manage at 6 weeks. I'm now 10 months post-op, and still have some swelling and need the occasional pain killer. I cannot wear any of the nice shoes I used to before the op, despite having them stretched, as all half-a size too small now. Don't worry about the calf muscle, Theresa, it will quickly build up again once you are mobile. You are very wise to do lots of exercise. I wish I had done more. All the best to everyone reading this for a good recovery.

Theresa childers on December 24, 2013:

I had scarf bunionectomy on 12/4/13. The pain lasted 24hrs, after that Tylenol used rarely. At wk 3 I have noticed my calf muscle is practically nonexistent. I have done much more exercise than Dr said, and I use the scooter for nonwt bearing for 6wks. Flex the foot and hold to get muscles back is my next plan. Not given much info with Doc, and I am R.N., and I have been surprised how little info given. Had no clue when steri-strips to come off-forced them off at wk 2, painful. I think I could teach in a wk, but 6wks would make huge difference ! Exercise tons. I thought I had done so, but I have lost a lot of muscle tone quickly. This will affect how fast you get back on your feet!

Loni on December 15, 2013:

I had my surgery on Wednesday 12/11/2013. Today is Sunday 12/15 so I'm just 4 days post-op. The pain is not too bad, but I only have enough medication for a few more days -- probably until my 1 week post-op appointment. Is that normal? I'm trying not to take too much, but I find about every three hours I'm really hurting! I tried taking 2 every 4 hours, but then I'm yo-yo-ing. Meds up, then meds down, etc. That's why I went to every1 pill every 3 hours. Ok, so tell me how long the really bad pain lasts. One week? Two weeks? Give me a clue here. Also, I teach school. I set this up so that I'd have four weeks off, then plan to rent a knee-scooter when school starts up again on Jan 6. Am I over-confident here? Thanks. This blog has been wonderful!

notreehill on May 19, 2013:

the surgeon told me to "touch weight bear" for the remaining four weeks in a fibre glass cast. Did not understand what that meant, so kept my foot off the floor entirely, and now have a shortened achilles tendon. What he should have said was "walk on your heel" after the first two weeks, and I would have done it. Had to check with Wikipedia as no useful explanations on line. Also, very important to have closed lace up shoes with a rigid heel and midfoot support for proper walking. I had to buy a new pair athletic shoes half a size larger than usual, but it's working well. Flip flops and sandals comfortable, but no support around the heel which is apparently crucial to the healing process. I went back to work at 8 weeks (nursing), and it's been a struggle. Getting easier now at 14 weeks, but have picked up left knee problems as am walking differently compared to before the surgery. The podiatrist not willing to do inserts yet, as too soon after surgery. Said to come back in three months when the nerves and soft tissues have settled down. I find an elastic stocking helps keep the foot and ankle swelling under control, and massage my foot every night with arnica cream.