Why Traditional Bunion Surgery Should be Avoided

Bunions are painful, unsightly, and mysterious. They affect about a third of all women over the age of 65, but younger people, including men, can also get them. Until recently, there hasn’t been a simple solution or a cure for bunions.

Conventional foot surgery can be extremely debilitating. Understandably, people cringe at the thought of having their feet cut open. Individuals who suffer from foot ailments like bunions, heel spurs, and hammertoes often put off foot surgery until the pain becomes crippling. This, though, is far from ideal.

People will turn to every possible alternative before arriving at the last resort of conventional foot surgery. Most people with painful, unsightly bunions choose to suffer throughout life instead of undergoing the perceived horror of invasive open-foot surgery.

And for good reason. 

Conventional Open-Foot Bunion Surgery is Brutal

Before surgery can take place, most medical professionals will have a patient undergo a series of tests. When surgery day finally arrives, conventional bunion surgery may require the use of general or twilight anesthesia. 

In terms of the actual surgery, open-foot procedures typically involve a 5-6 inch incision along the side of the foot. (This incision is usually deep enough to reach the bone.) The skin and soft tissue are retracted (pulled apart in order to open the incision) in order to expose the skeletal structure of the big toe joint and bone.

Depending on the procedure, the joint and bone are either broken, cut, or removed and realigned back to their proper, natural position. Hardware such as pins, screws, wire, and plates are attached to the new skeletal structure in order to stabilize it while the bones heal for about the next six months (at minimum). Many patients who undergo this surgery experience a scar from the large incision along their foot.

What’s more, residual pain from open-foot bunion surgery can last for months.  Following surgery, no pressure can be placed on the foot, meaning patients will normally have to stay off their feet completely for about a month or more. As one can imagine, this can be a massive inconvenience for individuals in terms of their professional and personal life. 

The Foot

Traditional foot surgery is a complex undertaking with a long, painful recovery period. Still, until new surgical techniques were developed, it was essentially the only way to address bunion pain for good. 

It’s worth remembering that the foot itself is complex. It has 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that interact with each other. Each serves a specific purpose; it is very easy to disrupt this delicate network.

One small imbalance might contribute to painful issues that can last a lifetime. Irregularities can cause a great deal of pain. For example, the flexor and extensor tendons are naturally off-center in a healthy foot and are kept in place by an intricate interplay between many ligaments and muscles, which can be put out of balance by any number of forces, both internal and external. Once the balance is thrown off, the flexor and extensor tendons will continue to be pulled out of their natural position. The condition can progress faster as it gets worse because the compensating forces become less effective.


The imbalance described above leads to bunions. One of the external causes might be wearing shoes that don’t fit properly –– like high heels. Bunions can also be hereditary, which is an example of an internal force that causes them.

Feet and Surgery

Foot surgery presents numerous logistical challenges for patients and medical professionals. 

Note, the foot is the furthest body part from the heart. This distance causes a heightened risk of poor circulation at the surgery site, which will slow healing and increase the risk of infection. After conventional surgery, the foot is often elevated to decrease swelling. The problem is, raising the foot decreases circulation even further because the blood must be pumped up, against gravity.

The foot is subject to higher mechanical stresses than other parts of the body. As previously stated, it is a complex system in which a delicate balance between opposing forces must remain in balance. It also bears the entire weight of the body and is subject to uneven, unpredictable terrain.

Another consideration is that the soft tissue surrounding the foot is thinner than it is around other parts of the body. Healing occurs more slowly where there is thin soft tissue, than when it is thicker.

The foot’s natural complexity, distance from the heart, internal and external stresses, and soft tissue all contribute to the fact that traditional foot surgery comes with challenges not present with operations in other parts of the body.

The Patient

Everyone is different. A person’s activity level, age, health, diet, and lifestyle are all factors to consider when thinking about different types of foot surgery. Younger, more active people might be more suited for a procedure that would not be ideal for someone who is older and less active.

Younger patients must maintain movement in the big toe to re-establish the natural position of the forefoot. In older patients, a conventional procedure that fuses the joint, rendering it immobile, is often considered. At Northwest Surgery Center, we do not perform open foot procedures.

Most traditional bunion procedures will limit the range of motion of the big toe. Unfortunately, this restriction is not desirable for people who want to remain active throughout their lives.

The Severity of the Foot Problem

Conventional methods are described below – We do NOT do the following procedures.

Different procedures are available for bunions of varying severity.

For mild cases, non-invasive methods, like wraps, splints, and other apparatus can be worn, but these do not correct the bunion. At best, they might temporarily alleviate some of the pain.

In one surgical procedure for less severe bunions, a “V” shape is cut into the joint of the big toe; this allows the surgeon to straighten the toe, but requires the insertion of a screw into the joint to keep the toe in place. (To be clear, we do use a “V” shaped cut to straighten the toe. However, our method does not utilize a screw. It is wrapped in a particular way by our doctors so that it heals correctly.)

For more severe cases, the soft tissue must be further disturbed. Different methods of straightening the toe are employed. Plates, screws, and other hardware are often used to correct the toe and keep it in place.

In severe cases mostly involving more elderly patients, resection arthroplasty is often performed by removing the bottom of the toe joint with the big toe left immobilized entirely. This procedure affects the balance of the patient and also changes the anatomy of the foot. When one part of the complex foot system is altered, every part of the system is changed, even beyond the foot. Over time, this causes problems in other areas of the foot and may also affect the ankles, knees, and lower back.

The New Solution – Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery at Northwest Surgery Center

As you can see, traditional foot surgery is undesirable in many ways. So what’s a person to do? There is a much better, much less painful alternative that also significantly reduces recovery time.

If you’ve put off bunion surgery or other types of foot surgery such as hammertoes or heel spurs, we’ve got good news for you. Minimally invasive foot surgery can help you find foot pain relief without dealing with common issues that plague traditional foot surgery.

The procedure itself is an outpatient one that only requires local anesthesia.  Most patients are able to walk out of surgery, drive, and go up and down stairs with no problem. Many don’t even take pain medication after the fact.

This is mostly due to the fact that incisions made during minimally invasive surgery are much smaller and less damaging than during open foot procedures.

A typical minimally invasive bunion surgery requires 3 incisions less than 1/4 of an inch in length. This means the soft tissue is disturbed as little as possible. One single stitch closes each incision. The entire procedure takes less than 2 hours including pre-and-post op.

Our minimally-invasive procedure has been making national news. It is becoming widely accepted and praised by patients who undergo them.

Contact Us

Ready to see what minimally invasive surgery can do for you? Then contact our team at the Northwest Surgery Center today! We’re pioneers in minimally invasive surgical techniques, and we can help you deal with common foot pain issues like hammertoes, bunions, and heel spurs.

Related Questions About Bunion Surgery


Why is bunion surgery so painful?

Bunion surgery does not have to be painful. Our Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery allows patients to walk right out of the operation with zero or minimal painfrom the operation throughout the entire recovery.

Is bunion surgery a major surgery?

Traditional “open-foot” bunion surgery is a major surgery. Our Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery is not a major surgery. The entire procedure takes less than 2 hours, you walk out of the operation with almost no pain and you are never immobilized.

How long do you have to be off work for bunion surgery?

With our minimally invasive bunion surgery, you will have to miss about a half day of work. You can return to work the same day as your surgery, as long as you are not required to be on your feet nonstop. You can walk right away as long as you don’t overdo it.