5 Things You Should Know Before Having Foot Surgery

August 26, 2015
Don't let your feet go under the knife until you read this.

If you’re a runner and you’ve noticed your feet look more like mangled claws than feet these days, you’ve probably considered foot surgery. But which is worse: the pain of walking each day on bunions and hammertoes or the pain of surgery?

To find out, we talked to top foot docs about what surgery for common foot woes (such as bunions, hammertoes, nerve enlargement, tendon rupture, and heel pain) entails, as well as possible complications and if it’s really worth it to see a surgeon. Here are five things every woman with aching feet should know:

1. Surgery’s a Last Resort
“Almost all foot conditions have a non-operative treatment path, and surgery is only for those that can’t get better without it,” says Andy Gerken, M.D., a foot and ankle specialist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in California. Sure, every once in a while, surgery is the only option, like if you rupture your Achilles tendon and need it repaired. But most of the time, that's not the case.

If your dogs have been barking for more than two weeks and the ’ole RICE trick (rest, ice, compression, elevation) isn’t helping things, make an appointment with a doctor—either an orthopedic surgeon or a podiatrist that’s surgically trained—to discuss your options. Generally, before surgery is even offered up as an option, you’ll try physical therapy, orthotics, injections, and new shoes, says doctor of podiatry medicine Krista Archer, an associate of the America College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and staff member at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

RELATED: 6 Ways You Could Be Damaging Your Feet

2. It’s Performed as an Outpatient Procedure
Most patients walk (or hobble) out of the hospital just hours after their surgery, sporting a lovely surgical boot, says Archer. During surgery, the foot is usually numbed, but the patient stays awake. Don’t worry—you won’t be able to see anything. How long the surgery lasts depends on what’s plaguing your foot, but in the case of bunion surgery (which is one of the most common foot surgeries among young women), the whole thing takes about 60 minutes.

3. Recovery Sucks
You’re going to be in a boot for a long time before you get back into heels. “Patients need to be prepared to invest at least four weeks in a boot, with total recovery time taking eight to 12 weeks,” says Archer. During the recovery time, expect a lot of sitting with your foot up, changing bandages, and waiting. While running and pretty much any high-impact exercise is a no-no for a couple months, most doctors will let you get on a stationary bike sooner, says Gerken. That said, the inconvenience is far worse than the pain. After a couple of days, the pain isn’t anything some ibuprofen can’t handle.

RELATED: 6 Pairs of Hot Heels That Won't Murder Your Feet

4. Complications Are Rare
Luckily, for most patients, there is a pain-free light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, bunion surgery comes with an 85 to 90 percent post-surgery satisfaction rate. And complications are rare. While they can include infection and nerve injury, they occur in only one to two percent of all foot surgeries, says Gerken.

RELATED: The 10 Most Repulsive Runners' Feet Photos You'll Ever See

5. It Can Be Pricey
Price tags range from a couple to more than 10 grand. It largely depends on the type of surgery, your city—and this one’s important—how much your insurance company will pay. Before you start scheduling surgeries, talk to your insurance company to see what or if a fraction of your surgery will be covered. After all, some companies consider bunion and hammertoe surgeries to be elective, meaning they aren’t going to shell out what you hope.

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