Physical Therapy for Bunion Repair Surgery

Orthopaedic & Spine Center


Dr. Jamie Swale

Jamie Swale, DPT

Bunion Repair Surgery is a common surgery of the foot, more often performed for women in middle age, but certainly seen in men and in other age groups as well.  Bunion Repair Surgery or bunionectomy, can be complex and require foot reconstruction by a qualified foot and ankle orthopaedist to be done correctly.  The goal of surgery is to repair the bunion (hallux valgus – which is a deformity of the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint), reduce the pain and inflammation, and create a mechanically more normal foot that can comfortably wear shoes and ambulate without pain.

Although there have been many recent advancements to the surgical techniques, computer navigation and instrumentation for bunion surgery, it remains controversial because of mixed outcomes regarding patient satisfaction.  One of the most often complained about issues is the long recovery period after surgery, often with non/partial weight-bearing and non-driving time frames that make the patient less independent.  While entirely necessary to allow the foot to heal properly, these are the times when post-surgical bunionectomy patients are often most challenged to adhere to doctor’s orders. 

However, there is good news.  Physical Therapy has been shown to help post-bunionectomy patients achieve fuller and faster recoveries than those patients who don’t pursue Physical Therapy.  There are exercises and modalities that a Physical Therapist can prescribe throughout all the phases of recovery from bunion surgery, to address specific needs in the healing process. 

For example, swelling will be an issue in the first three to six months after surgery.  The Physical Therapist will be able to facilitate drainage of your lymphatic system for circulation, reduce inflammation in the soft tissues, and help with exercises that will restore stability of the foot and ankle, as well as reduce complications of disuse atrophy.

Because there can be so many variations to bunion surgery and because each patient is different with varying fitness and overall general health levels, recovery periods from the surgery will fluctuate widely from patient to patient.  Add into the recovery mix the differing post-surgery protocols of the surgeons who do the procedures, as they are not all the same.  However, the Physical Therapist is skilled at working with patients to understand specific physician orders to get the best outcome during the healing process.

There are typically three phases to recovery from a bunionectomy:

Non-weight bearing: During this time, the patient will be using crutches or a knee scooter to keep weight off their operated foot.  In Physical Therapy, they will focus on gait training, range of motion and isometric strengthening within the restrictions that their surgeon has recommended for them.

Partial weight bearing: At this time, the patient may have been fitted with a special boot to allow for partial weight bearing.  Or they may have been told to put some weight on their foot while continuing to walk with crutches.  The Physical Therapist will continue to progress gait training and strengthening with the patient during this part of the recovery period.

Full weight bearing: Now, the patient will not be using assistive devices for their normal ambulation.  Physical Therapy will help them to normalize their gait pattern, be weaned from any assistive device, ensure they have full range of motion and improve their strength.

How long does recovery take really take for a bunionectomy? Physical Therapy can take roughly six weeks, but as always, it depends on the person, their pain tolerance and rate of progress. As mentioned before, no two people are alike, nor are their surgeries.  The goal of Physical Therapy is to help each individual have a good recovery and enjoy their reconstructed foot to the best of their ability.



Make an appointment with our Physical Therapy Team or an orthopaedic spine specialist by calling our office at (757) 596-1900 or completing the form by clicking the button below. Our office is located in Newport News, VA. We are 40 minutes from Virginia Beach and an hour from Richmond, VA.

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