By William T. DeCarbo, DPM, FACFAS
As we get older, people often face physical challenges that society considers “normal” parts of aging. Aching joints, back pain and problems with the feet are common complaints. Many people who have pain in their feet also notice they have large bumps that protrude from the sides of their big toes. These bumps are bunions and can cause severe pain, making it difficult to perform the simplest of daily tasks. While many assume these bumps are callouses or overgrowths of bone, they are actually caused by a complex bone deformity.
The appearance of bunions has created a stigma that often embarrasses people and discourages them from talking about the issue, but it is important that they are corrected as the deformity will likely worsen over time. Additionally, traditional surgical bunion treatment methods such as 2D osteotomies have been known to bring challenging recoveries, which has also deterred people from seeking care. Unfortunately, a bunion will never go away on its own and it is important to have an evaluation to discuss treatment options if you notice one beginning to form.
One might be surprised to learn that nearly 25% of the U.S. population lives with bunions. There is a common misconception that the condition is caused by wearing high heels and narrow shoes, but in fact most bunions are hereditary and anyone can develop a bunion regardless of their shoe choice.
So, what exactly is a bunion? Bunions result from an unstable joint in the middle of the foot that allows the big toe to drift out of alignment. The deformity usually progresses over time and many people experience worsening pain or discomfort as they age. Those who enjoy running, biking or even going for walks often find themselves cutting back or even eliminating these activities because of bunion pain.
Traditional surgical methods for correcting bunions can come with some unfortunate side effects. Many specialists initially recommend that patients try to manage their pain using noninvasive options such as orthotics, splints or pads. These methods may provide some relief, however, bunions can only be corrected with surgical treatment. In the past, surgery typically involved a procedure called 2D osteotomy, also known as the “shave it off” method. These often require patients to stay off their feet for weeks and bring about a 70% risk of bunion recurrence.
Luckily, advances in medical technology have facilitated the development of new methods for bunion treatment that are more effective. One innovative method corrects the misaligned bones in the foot and secures them in their proper positions using a system of patented titanium plates. This differs from the traditional surgery that involves simply shaving off the protruding bone. With the newer method, the Lapiplasty® Procedure, patients are typically able to bear weight on their feet while wearing a walking boot within days of surgery and return to their usual physical activities within about four months. Because the procedure corrects the root cause of the bunion, it comes with only a 1-3% risk of recurrence in 13- and 17-month studies, respectively.
While bunions are a common problem and can seem like one of the “normal” parts of aging, it doesn’t mean that patients should live with the pain and discomfort they cause. Advances in technology including the Lapiplasty® Procedure are working to provide better bunion patient outcomes and helping to get them back to their normal lives. Gone are the days that people suffering from bunions need to hide or shy away from treatment. Bunions need to be corrected, and the results from new procedures can give patients the reassurance they need that correcting the problem will be worth it.
Only a surgeon can tell if Lapiplasty® 3D Bunion Correction™ is right for you. As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary and this experience is unique and specific to this patient only. There are potential risks with surgery and recovery takes time. Potential risks include, but are not limited to: infection, pain, discomfort from the presence of the implant, loosening of the implant, and loss of correction with nonunion or malunion.
Author Biography: Dr. William DeCarbo is a foot and ankle specialist who practices with the Greater Pittsburgh Foot & Ankle Center in Wexford, PA. He has been practicing as a foot and ankle specialist in the Pittsburgh area for more than 12 years and has been an active teacher and researcher in the field throughout his career, including serving as a design surgeon for Lapiplasty® 3D Bunion Correction™.