Tips for before and after bunion surgery

Follow your doctor or nurse’s instructions regarding taking any medication and wound care. I’m not medically qualified so I can only tell you what my experience has been. If in doubt, phone your doctor or the ward where you had your surgery.

Beforehand

Get everything you’ll need within reach for the two weeks immediately after your surgery when you will be in bed. This could include your music, your phone and mp3 plus chargers, laptop, and any books you want to read. Also, I found a portable DVD player useful whilst flat on my back in bed for two weeks.

Sort your kitchen out too so you don’t have to reach for things as well. Standing on tip toe is not going to happen for a few weeks! If necessary get yourself a pole or grabber of some description to reach up to windows if you need to open or close them. I guess this bit depends on how much help you will have during your recuperation period. I have been very lucky and have had my mother staying with me and giving me 24/7 support, but I know in many cases this level of support isn’t possible. If your partner goes out to work you’ll have to fend for yourself during the day.

Carrying things is impossible while you are using crutches, unless you can manage with one crutch. A wheelable small trolley or table could be useful to transport a cup of tea or hot food without spilling it. You can find this kind of thing in a mobility or aids shop for the elderly or disabled.  Or you could put a chair and table in the kitchen if there isn’t one already, so you don’t need to move hot drinks or food very far.  When I was alone one day I made a flask of tea and was able to transport it back upstairs so I had tea for the afternoon.  That works, but the tea tasted of that strange flasky taste.

If you need to use a taxi to get around (for your hospital appointments) then get enough cash as you won’t be able to get to the cash machine later.

After surgery

If you are having a general anaesthetic  then get some sore throat lozenges. You might appreciate them after your surgery as sometimes it can give you a sore throat.  And if you don’t get one, then just save them for your next dose of flu!

Get some painkillers and ibuprofen. You’ll probably be given some painkillers immediately after your surgery by your doctor, which are stronger than normal. I was given a week’s worth of Tramadol. But after this time, you will probably need to take some pain killers or anti-inflammatories, so get stocked up.

Two weeks in bed

During the first two weeks you will need to stay off your foot as much as possible and elevate it a lot of the time.  This means spending two weeks in bed and only getting out to shuffle to the toilet and back. So you may be eating food in bed, if you’re lucky enough to have someone to assist you with your care. Make sure you sit up to eat it and stay sitting up for about half an hour afterwards or you run the risk of gastric reflux, which is unpleasant. Prop yourself up with good pillows or buy a bed wedge or back rest.

I found these two weeks frustrating, due to the inevitable discomfort and pain in my foot and also just because you are lying there for days. I got back ache as I couldn’t sleep on my side because my tender foot had to be propped upright and kept away from the sheets and mattress. I found a roll to rest my foot on was a really good idea, because it kept my foot elevated at night, and later on when I got a bit better, I could sleep on my side with my ankle on the roll and my foot slightly elevated off the bed so my wound didn’t touch the mattress.

Showering and washing

Use a plastic bag, with some kind of tape, to cover your foot if you want to take a shower. It’s very important that you don’t get your bandage wet while the wound is healing. In my case, I decided to avoid taking a shower for the six weeks I had my bandage on to avoid any risk of getting it wet and therefore risking infection. So I opted for a flannel wash, which is not that pleasant but it’s not the end of the world and it only lasts six weeks. And when you can finally get in the shower, you REALLY appreciate it!

When the bandages come off – dry feet and stitches

Buy a big tub of E45 cream for when the bandages come off. This is cream for dry skin conditions and was recommended by the plaster technician who removed my bandage. The skin on your foot will be dry and flake or peel off for a while. It’s a bit gross, but it’s perfectly normal and will be sorted out with the cream in a week or two.

I also bought some Bio-Oil for use on the scar. I haven’t started using it yet, but will when the dissolvable stitches have all come out (I’m nearly there, only one left in!).  I found my scar/wound was very hard at first, and the E45 cream has gradually softened it up. I’m sure the Bio-Oil will be good for that as well.

Get a large pair of socks (or two) for when your bandages come off. I appreciated having a roomy sock to put on when I got rid of my bandage so my scar/stitches didn’t rub too much against the sock.

Walking stick

Get yourself a walking stick to use when you are finally learning to walk again in your flat surgical shoe. It will feel very strange when you walk in your flat shoe, after walking about in the wedge shoe for a few weeks, and you’ll need some support. You could still use the crutches you’ve been given. Walking sticks however are not that expensive and can be useful to signal to other people that you aren’t steady on your feet, even if you don’t really need it to walk with. When I started walking again, I found that I was imbalanced on my right leg due to lack of weight bearing on it for 6 weeks. The muscles need to get stronger again, so you experience a period of one leg stronger than the other. A walking stick will help you with this!

Back ache when walking

When I stopped using my two crutches to walk around, I noticed that my good foot in its slipper was lower down than my post-surgery foot, which was high up in a wedge shoe (and later on in the flat surgical shoe). This caused an imbalance in my walking which put pressure on my lower back. So when you start walking about without crutches wear a shoe on your good foot, which will raise your leg up so you are not putting pressure on your back.

Shoes

A roomy shoe or trainer to wear when you get your bandage off. It took me a week to be able to get my foot into a shoe, after my bandage came off (7 weeks after surgery), despite the fact that my doctor told me it should only take a couple of days. I don’t think they know because they don’t get to see you for another three months (in the case of my hospital) and probably don’t think to ask what your experience of shoe wearing has been (after all, it’s not clinical!). In any case, there is no rush or competition to get your shoe on so take it easy. If you do go back to work, you can always wear your flat surgical shoe for a while.

The type of shoe you might use is one with a short tongue (the bit at the top), so you don’t have to flex your toe too much to get your foot in. Also one which has an extra wide fitting so it can accommodate any swelling, and give your scar/stitches room without rubbing and irritating them. I had a shoe made by Websters when I had my bunion, and it has a wider fitting for the right shoe. I find it is perfect now for accommodating a foot liable to swelling.  However, you might prefer to go out and look for a cheaper alternative, such as a roomy trainer. Do this before your surgery so it’s ready for when you need it.

You may not need this, but I was thankful that I had an ankle support tucked away in my draw at home. Now that I’m walking again and have returned to work, I found that my ankle is a bit weak due to lack of use (6 weeks of non weight bearing), and I have developed a bit of soreness in it due to struggling to walk. I wear an ankle support to help me.

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Stiffness, aching and limping

I was reading the posts over on Patient Info – Hallux Valgus group – and was reminded of part of my recovery which involved dealing with limping, aching, cramp and general stiffness.

When I went back to work after 8 weeks my foot was still liable to swelling and I was walking with a limp because my big toe was very stiff and didn’t bend and push very well. This was partly due to stiffness and partly due to loss of muscle tone from sitting and lying around waiting for the bone to heal. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I did go for short walks around my local park (which fortunately for me was only down the road) to get myself moving again, but they were only short and slow walks. I basically did as much as I could stand as it was painful.

So, going back to work was a challenge as it meant getting to the train station, where I commuted by tube train into central London, then walking to work. My muscles did build back up over time as I got used to walking. I also developed quite a sore ankle and I experienced occasional cramp in my calf. I think this was due to walking in a slightly odd way as my big toe just wasn’t flexible enough to bend and push. It became more flexible as the weeks went by and I was not left with any problems once I got back into walking again. In fact, I did take up running for a while on my treadmill and had no problems.

Seven years after my surgery my right big toe is still stiffer than my left one (which is bunion free) and I think this is a permanent effect of having surgery. It’s also shorter than it was. But I would stress that this is not a problem and I can physically do whatever I want to do. I guess if I was a dancer or something like that then it might be an issue but I’m not. I enjoy walking and gardening and could do running if I wanted to take it up again.

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The mystery of the disappearing toenails

One thing I didn’t blog about at the time of my surgery 7 years ago (as it was a bit gross) was about the odd thing that happened to my big toenails.

After my surgery, my big toenail started to discolour and look a bit dodgy. Eventually it fell clean off! Before then because I was worried about it I went to my NHS walk in centre and asked the nurse about it. I thought, not unreasonably, that it was something to do with my bunion surgery. Perhaps my toenail got infected or it was knocked somehow in surgery. She thought that was unlikely to have happened. She didn’t prescribe antibiotics at the time because they are understandably reluctant to give them out unless there is a pressing need.

So, I went off home with my dodgy toenail and it eventually just fell off! I thought that was strange, but then stranger still – the other big toenail on my left foot started to go funny. To cut a long story short, the same thing happened and it fell off. None of the other toenails were affected.

Both toenails grew back over time and there was no harm done. I’ve never had anything like that since. I think my right toenail went into shock because of the surgery and my left one came out in sympathy!

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Bunion surgery – 7 years on

It’s now seven years since I had my bunion surgery at Whipps Cross hospital in London so I thought I’d write a follow up post about how I’ve been getting on.

I am one of the fortunate people who had only one bunion to worry about. I had surgery on my right foot and the left one was and is still ok with no sign of any bunion. Sometimes when you have surgery the bunion can reappear but thankfully for me that hasn’t happened.

Since my surgery I have done the Coach to 5K NHS running course on my treadmill. I didn’t have a problem with my foot at all. I moved house last year and don’t have my treadmill anymore and as I don’t like running outdoors I don’t do this anymore.

I’m getting into walking now and now regularly go walking with my local On Your Doorstep Walking for Health group. I’ve given up work to look after my parents so I’m not as active as I’m not on my feet at work or walking to and from the train station 5 days a week. So, I need to make sure I keep active and fit and I’ve got my fitbit to keep me on track.

I am active as I want to be and have not got any issues from the surgery which stop me from doing anything I want to do.

My right toe is shorter than it was and it’s definitely stiffer than the left toe. Sometimes if I squat down to pick something when I’m gardening it bends my toe back and it can be a bit painful and I wince slightly and I wish I hadn’t done it! But it’s not a major issue and compared to the difficulty walking and the pain I was in before my surgery it’s really nothing.

I had a bunion for several years before it got worse and got painful so the surgery was done not for cosmetic reasons but because I was in pain when I was walking. It’s not an exaggeration to say it was a life changer for me and I’m glad I had it done.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 43,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year everyone and best wishes for 2014!

Julia.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 25,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year everyone!

Best wishes,

Julia.

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Blog makeover

Hi all, I’ve given the blog a little makeover, changed its name and trimmed a few posts. I’ve decided to make it a bunion only blog, so I’ve trimmed it down by removing the non-bunion posts and left it as a record of my bunion journey. I never thought when I wrote the blog that there would be so many people who have been helped by it and also able to contact and help each other. I only ever wrote it to while away the hours while I was stuck in my bed or in my room while I recovered. Best wishes to all of you, and may you be running, walking, swimming and dancing very soon! Hugs, Julia.

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Swimming!

Getting back into swimming now in a big way. I’m feeling fitter and able now that my bunion surgery has been a success and my foot is feeling more comfortable. Also it’s a test for my knee as well (had an arthroscopy in April 2010). It’s doing well, but a little sore when I do the breast stroke. Must be the different movement that’s making it feel odd.

But all in all I feel very upbeat and happy that I can do physical stuff again. At first it was just a joy to be able to walk normally. I joined a gym (but only to swim) and have access to the sauna, steam room and aromatherapy room as well, which I love.

Onwards and upward!!

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