Deciding to have bunion surgery can be one of the most difficult health decisions to make. ‘Bunions’ are a cause of distress to many thousands of people -mostly women -worldwide. Last year, I wrote about bunions and my opinion was and still is – “avoid bunion surgery if at possible, unless it is ruining your life and crippling you with pain”.
The ‘bunion’ referred to here is the bony deformity characterized by a big toe that deviates towards the rest of the toes, possibly accompanied by a second toe which is bent and overlies it.
When any surgical intervention is considered, be it the podiatrist enucleating a corn, removing part of a toe-nail or the orthopaedic surgeon realigning the foot in bunion surgery, all of us strive to do our best to achieve a satisfactory outcome, by exercising our skills to the utmost.
So you can imagine my concern to have two patients recently complaining bitterly about their unhappiness with the result of their bunion surgery. Add to this my surprise at the ‘twenty-something’ who wants surgery because she doesn’t like the look of her feet and her bunion (this one is the small thickening of the metatarsal bone with no deformity), prevents her from wearing the high fashion shoes she needs for work.
What can you say to a middle-aged, active woman who decided to have her bunion (deformed type) corrected, but after three months can only wear trainers with the toe cut out, has a swollen foot, pain and discomfort, difficulty driving, plus all the associated emotional stress? Or how do you respond to a similar woman who is now in constant pain and has had altered her walking style because the foot is rigid at the big toe joint?
To the best of my knowledge the procedures were technically successful and there is no deformity anymore. In addition we all react differently to a surgical “assault” and time does allow better healing. Also, there are numerous variations of operations and techniques available for bunion correction surgery.
Firstly – go back to the surgeon and discuss your options.
Secondly – see if a podiatrist can assist with biomechanical correction or alignment and footwear advice.
With my 2 patients, one has had orthotics made and the other I referred to the surgeon, who has recommended further physiotherapy, with the possibility of another operation to remove the steel plate that is in the foot.
I will still refer patients who meet my criteria outlined above for consideration for surgery, because the final decision to undergo sugery is always taken by the patient. Unfortunately, there can be no absolute guarantees since the structure of each foot is so complicated.
So what to do about ‘bunions’? Is there an underlying systemic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis?
We must consider the patient’s age. Is the patient overweight? What is the biomechanical structure and function, not only of the feet but lower limbs and body? Have all possible conservative measures such as night splints, orthotics, insoles, appropriate footwear, been exhausted?
Be guided by the severity of loss of function, pain, discomfort and limitation of daily activities. Will the patient be able to adhere to all the post-operative requirements, expected by the surgeon?
Eventually, all these factors (plus others), must be seriously thought about before undergoing bunion surgery.
Men usually escape the painful feet we associate with poorly-fitting shoes. Surely it’s women who are wearing high heels and sharply pointed toes. They were doing it when I was at varsity. However I was amused by an article by Thando Pato entitled ” Men in sharp shoes miss the point” in the Sunday Times Lifestyle section on May 18th.
I checked with my associate Tshidi and sure enough “P&Bs” as they are known, are a real fashion item. Especially amongst black men. Ms Phato expresses her concerns about the growing number of South African men in all situations wearing shoes “so long and pointy that they look like spears.” (The word ‘bhoboza’ means to pierce in Zulu).
She also expresses a concern that I often use as a humour line in foot health talks – that shoes for women are designed by “cruel European men who claim to love women”. The message from Thando Pato is a great – not only are these shoes sold in garish colours, apparently white is cool – but she is also “traumatised” by the damage inflicted on the wearer’s feet.
She uses a great expression to describe corns, bunions, calluses and a host of other foot deformities that we traditionally associate with women; “Hammer Time”. I think this should become part of podiatry terminology. Her description of the pain experienced by one guy she sees is really funny. Thando Pato you must have been a podiatrist in a former life!
If you want to study the effect of high heels on how you walk, get along to the Victory Theatre in Johannesburg and take in The Rocky Horror Show. We went last night and it was a great show. Obviously I went for the anatomical study!
By the way the references for Angiosomes are: Taylor 1991. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.102.599. There is a fully illustrated article in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 2006.117. 261-293.
I know these are not 100% accurate but that’s what I wrote down at the congress, so put on your best Google and see what you get!
Bunions are among the most common and frequently most painful of conditions affecting the foot.
Remembering that your feet carry ALL of your weight ALL of the time that you are standing or walking then it is not surprising that the complex structure of your feet sometimes suffers re-alignment as they strive to accommodate our lives and activities. Sometimes we do not help matters by forcing our feet into unsuitable or badly fitting shoes.
Go to the Foot Health Articles section for some useful advice on bunions.