So this is a departure from my normal cooking and baking content, and definitely just skip over if this doesn’t apply to you. However, I decided I needed to write this post because when I was preparing myself for my bunion surgery recovery (Tailor’s bunion, to be exact), I had the DARNEDEST time finding good detailed information on the interwebs.
First things first and a MAJOR caveat…I can only speak to what *my* Tailor’s bunion surgery recovery was like, and what *my* surgeon had me do. I’m assuming that there is some variance based on many factors so you shouldn’t consider this a “what to do” list, just me detailing my personal experience for your benefit.
Again, I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I can’t guarantee that what worked for me is right for everyone, and you should consult your various health professionals (for me, that was my surgeon as well as my kinesiologist and chiropractor).
One key learning I’ll mention up front (and I’m sure mileage varies, depending on your doctor)…even when you’re allowed to start doing things, putting weight on your boot a bit, etc., I’d keep it super minimal. I ended up having to spend more time in the wrap, wait a little longer to get my sutures out, and had a setback later in the healing because I did too much too soon. So even once the doctor lets you do some things, be super conservative!
The early stages of bunion surgery recovery…
I had a super early morning surgery, so my mom and I showed up at 5:45am to check in. Once they actually got me into surgery it went very fast, I remember getting wheeled into the (freezing!) operating room, them moving me to the table, then I was out like a light.
I woke up a couple hours later a little woozy but feeling fine otherwise, and I shook off the tiredness pretty easily. I did start my pain meds right away to get ahead of it (“stay on top of the pain”), though I was off them within a couple days because I realized they weren’t actually *doing* anything for the pain and I was fine without them. Pain meds and I haven’t ever been friends, so I prefer not to be on them unless they’re really helping.
I was not put in a real cast, which had been a question prior to the surgery…they’d told me I would probably be in a cast for a couple weeks then move to a “boot”, but my surgeon said that when they got in there, my bones were so healthy they didn’t feel a cast was necessary.
So I came home in a dressing (that couldn’t get wet) and a walking cast or “moon boot” (also called CAM walker). I was non-weight bearing and fully on crutches for the first 6 weeks despite it being a “walking” cast.
But the beauty is that I could take the boot off whenever I wanted, like to flex my ankle and calf a bit, or just let my leg breathe. This helped tremendously both with not losing muscle tone in my calf (that would need re-built) and just mentally if it was feeling suffocated or sweating a ton (it was July).
My mom came into town to take care of me for the first two weeks, and I can’t tell you how helpful this was! Seriously, you need to have someone with you pretty much constantly for the first couple weeks to make sure you don’t overdo it. If they can help longer, that’s ideal.
We took REALLY good care of it for the first couple weeks, keeping it elevated 24/7 (only down to crutch to the bathroom). I had purchased two different leg elevation pillows (this single leg, and a double leg one) ahead of time, not knowing which I’d prefer…turns out I used both heavily, depending on where I was sitting or laying. It was really helpful to have the option for both.
We put a soft ice pack behind my knee for 20 minutes of every hour (we had timers to help us remember), which helped keep swelling down, and thus pain down. And I put literally ZERO weight on it for weeks. Which brings us to the crutches.
I’ve spent a *lot* of time on crutches in my life, but it had been a few years and I’m older 🙂 I forgot how hard it is to be on them constantly (especially as someone who lives alone), how tiring and challenging it is to do simple things like get a drink of water or some food. I did look into getting a scooter, which many people use, but it wouldn’t have helped a ton in my house and since I was able to work from home after my surgery I didn’t find it as necessary.
I was having trouble with a really bruised muscle under my arm that made crutching painful, but tried crutch pads and didn’t find them helpful (I returned them). I DID find the crutch side bag (which comes with hand pads, which I didn’t use) super helpful for carrying around my phone, chapstick, and water bottle.
Staying healthy after bunion surgery
I even slept with my leg elevated for several weeks, sleeping on my back with pillows a bit propped up, and then the single-leg pillow keeping my foot (in the boot) both elevated and immobile to avoid hurting it.
And all of that work we did to take super good care of me—especially for the first two weeks—combined with other healing factors (my own health, diet, possibly some of the supplements I took) helped really accelerate my healing in the early part of the process. My surgeon was shocked with how fast I healed early on.
Diet also makes a big difference, and I focused on being as anti-inflammatory as possible (with some treats, obvs). Lots of lean protein, vegetables (including a lot of dark leafy greens), berries, eggs, foods with omega-3s, and kept my processed carb and sugar intake fairly low.
My mom made me smoothies with kale, berries, protein powder, and collagen powder while she was helping take care of me. I also drank TONS of water, which is super critical to healing.
If you get sick of plain water, try snazzing it up from time to time, like adding a little bit of lemon or lime juice (I also add a few drinks of monkfruit syrup to take the tartness down), even a Spindrift from time to time.
How to shower after bunion surgery
One other major area to talk about. I am NOT one of those people who can go very long without washing my face, showering, washing my hair…I just feel so gross! Two days after my surgery my mom washed my hair over the back of the sink, but by day 4 I had to try showering.
The really important thing was that the dressing on my foot could not get wet—for like 7 weeks! So I developed this complicated showering ritual that hinged on this waterproof cast cover, a shower stool, some towels, and a lot of careful hopping. At first my mom could help, but I got quite good at it once she left.
I have a stand-up shower, so I’d gently hop myself into the shower, sit on the stool, and have my bum foot (in the cast cover) outside the shower on a folding chair. It was a bit more like being waterboarded than showering, but it got the job done. Eventually once I could do a tiny bit of weight bearing, I could bring my foot in with me, but wasn’t worth the chance that I’d accidentally put weight on it.
One weird random thing I’ll mention, all my skin flaked off for a couple weeks after my surgery (as though I was peeling from a sunburn). I’m guessing it was just a reaction to the trauma or anesthesia or something, but I exfoliated the hell out of myself! #thingsnobodytellsyou
Meds, supplements & more
So let’s talk meds and such…your surgeon will tell you what meds they want you to take. Also make sure you know what you can and can’t take for 1-2 weeks before surgery and immediately afterward.
- My surgeon had me fill a handful of prescriptions, including an antibiotic, pain meds, anti-nausea, and stool softener. I definitely took the antibiotics, and started on the pain meds (it’s important to get ahead of your pain).
- I don’t have great luck with pain meds usually, and while they didn’t make me feel terrible they weren’t helping much, so I was off them after a few days. I wasn’t in too much pain, so was fine. One thing to be aware of is that NSAIDs (like ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.) are thought to inhibit bone and tendon healing so I’d avoid them.
- I didn’t take the anti-nausea or stool softener at first, decided to wait and see how I felt. I ate prunes regularly and made sure I was getting plenty of fiber, and was able to get by without the stool softener. I never needed the anti-nausea.
- Since I’d nuked my stomach biome with the antibiotics, I started prebiotics and probiotics (this regular and a yeast-based) pretty much right away. Other things that can be helpful are naturally-fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
- I had some supplements from my kinesiologist to promote healing and immune response, as well as strong vitamin D. And I took arnica pellets to promote healing as well.
Stuff that saved my life after my bunion surgery
Crutches and boot, obvs
They should give them to you at the hospital.
Leg elevation pillows
As I mention above, I had two different types of leg elevation pillows (single-leg and double-leg), and used both heavily. Now my cats have claimed them 🙂
Soft (gel) ice packs
You don’t want ones that harden, or that could leak. Swelling and inflammation are your enemies, not only early on in the process but as you get closer to getting your sutures out, starting weightbearing, etc.
Lightweight backpack with string straps
I recommend the kind that’s very light (like nylon) with thin string straps. Anything bulkier gets in the way of crutches. Mine was quite cheap, something leftover that I got free from a concert. The one below looks decent, though you’d have to see if the pocket works.
Also I recommend a front pocket to stash most important things (keys, chapstick, glasses).
Different types of water bottles & jugs
I had ordered this Fellow Carter mug which is pretty and indestructible, and used it a ton (partly because I missed the return window). The main downside is that it was too fat to fit into my crutch side pack. But you’ll probably want a few different types of drink containers. Drink tons of water!!
Crutch side pack
I thought this would be dumb, but it was a lifesaver once my mom left. I could throw my water bottle or a Spindrift can or whatever in there, carry keys and chapstick, etc.
Waterproof cast cover
As I mentioned above, this was CLUTCH. I was skeptical it could work, but it did, and made showering possible. I kept getting paranoid that there was moisture inside once I finished, but realized it was just from sweat.
I did look into a scooter, both online and through a medical supply store. I ultimately decided I didn’t need it, since I was working from home and didn’t need to get out that much. If I’d been going to the office much I definitely would have considered it.
The progression of mobility and healing
So let’s talk about how I progressed. As I said, I was put in a dressing, which they removed and re-dressed at every appointment. Here’s what my foot incision looked like at…1 week.
At 6 weeks (no, I didn’t get lazy, we basically jumped straight from 2 week to 6 week appointment in terms of any changes). At this point I was allowed to be weight-bearing to some extent (though was told to keep it fairly minimal), but was still using crutches quite a lot as well as walking on the boot a bit.
He’d planned to take my stitches out at this appointment but decided to leave them in one more week, so I had the dressing yet another week. He did say the bone and screw inside were completely healed. But thought there was just a bit of swelling and didn’t want to take the sutures out yet.
At 8 weeks…I was mostly cleared off crutches, had the dressing off and stitches out (a week prior), and started to spend bits of time in tennis shoes to get my foot used to it. Otherwise I was still in the boot, and using an ace bandage with it (more on that below).
How long does it take to recover from bunion surgery?
Every person is going to be different and every surgeon will have their own protocol, but by around the eight-week mark you should be transitioning into tennis shoes (out of the “boot”) and starting to slowly ramp up your activity (“gently walking for exercise”). This doesn’t mean you’re fully recovered, though. The inside of my surgery (bone, screw) was fully healed, but I wasn’t good to go yet. By around 12 weeks you may be cleared for normal activity, but I had a setback around that time, so it’s not a sure thing. Which brings us to the back-end of recovery…
The tail-end of bunion surgery recovery
Basically, don’t think you’re in the clear! Once I got to a point where I got the sutures out (week 7), my surgeon told me to start slowly transitioning into tennis shoes. I had to wear an ace bandage 24/7 (minus showering), whether I was in my walking cast or a tennis shoe.
Then basically I had to start with an hour in tennis shoes (or what I could tolerate), then back into the boot, and slowly work my way up to more time until I was ready to full transition out of the boot. Problem was…that’s really squishy?
First off, I hate tennis shoes (outside of actually working out), so sitting around in them at home was super weird. But no other shoes were acceptable. Around week 8 I was able to start “gently walking for exercise” (an important distinction, since my real exercise walk is intense). And then I kind of had a setback.
The thing is, I got a little lazy as time wore on, sitting around barefoot with my feet up. But then I’d need to run and grab a glass of water or go to the bathroom and might not put my tennis shoe or boot back on, or slipped on flip flops. And over time I started feeling like I was having more pain than I should, not improving.
Around the 12-week (3 month) mark I was ready to head out of the country, and finally got a hold of my surgeon and he was like, “welp, gotta go backward and let it rest for a week or two.” Remember that beach shot at the top? Yeah, I had to wear my boot most of the time in Jamaica.
I REPEAT…do not go barefoot or in sandals too early!!! In fact those are the last two types of footwear you should progress to (barefoot is, sadly, really bad for the foot when recovering from this type of thing).
One of the things here that was really helpful was having a tennis shoe that’s a half-size too big. You’ll need that extra room, not only for swelling but also the extra bulk of the ace bandage. I also used Ted’s Pain Cream from time to time to help when it was particularly achy or stabby.
I’m now at almost 5 months and doing well overall. I’m still a bit careful with it, but can do normal activity and walk around the house barefoot. I’ve been using this scar minimizer cream on it (recommended by a plastic surgeon I know), but my sister recently introduced me to this scar tape and I love it.
To summarize what we’ve covered on how to prepare for bunion surgery:
- Make sure you have someone who can help take care of you, especially the first few weeks
- Get the right gear to be comfortable, including elevation pillows, soft ice packs, a shower stool, & more (list above)
- Set up comfortable spaces around the house where you can chill, & have all the items you need close by
- “Clear the decks” in your house…consider getting crutches or a scooter through narrow walkways, move things that may trip you up
- Plan for healthy, non-inflammatory eating, including lots of lean protein, leafy greens, berries, omega-3’s, eggs, and avoid sugar and processed foods as much as possible
- Consider supplements that may help you maintain immune support after the trauma of surgery, boost healing, and provide other support
- Re-build your gut biome if you’ve been put on antibiotics, focusing on prebiotic and probiotic supplements, fiber, and fermented foods
- After surgery, be super disciplined about elevating your leg, icing regularly, staying off it, & following other doctor orders!
- Consider long-term muscle tone & if your surgeon okays it, make sure you flex your calf and ankle regularly
So I know I just threw a lot of information at you, but I’m hoping that if you’ve read this far, it’s been super useful. Please feel free to hit me up in the comments with questions or things I didn’t talk about…I’m happy to share whatever I can (remember)!
Some really easy, fast recipes to help on your recovery:
- Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Amazing, Flavorful (& Easy) Chicken Shawarma
- 5-Minute Healthy Breakfast Tacos (with a low carb tortilla)
- How To Baste Eggs: Basted Eggs with Caramelized Shredded Brussels Sprouts
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