Note: This post contains affiliate links. Shopping via these links means I may earn a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. As always, all opinions expressed here are 100% my own, and I only share products and brands that I love and hope you will, too. I am definitely not a doctor or medical professional of any kind, so consult your own doctor before applying any of my own experiences or tips to your unique situation.
Teaching + Bunion Surgery
Over the past year I have had two bunion surgeries (one for each foot). Both of these surgeries took place during the school year. In this post I’m sharing my story, focusing on the areas I’ve received the most questions about. Please keep in mind that this post covers my own experience with 3D bunion surgery and should not serve as medical advice: always consult your doctor about your own unique medical situations.
Spoiler Alert: Skip to my list of Foot Surgery Savers that made life SO much easier.
Background Story: Where Did They Come From?
Bunions are painful swellings on the outside of the first joint of the big toe, and they can also occur outside the first joint of the pinkie ties (called “tailor’s” bunions in this case: lucky me, I had both types!). Some people like me can be more prone to bunions than others due to heredity (both my mom and grandmother had them). However, the biggest cause of bunions is shoes. Since high school I’ve been squishing my feet into pointy-toed shoes, heeled sandals and boots, even too-small shoes when I found a cute pair for a great price…and they were a size too small. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there once or twice. As I learned the hard way, when you repeatedly wear shoes that are too cramped in the toe box or bend your toes in ways they weren’t meant to be bent, over time, bunions can form. This is especially true for those of us who work in professions where we’re on our feet for long periods of time, like teaching.
I started noticing pain in my forefeet and ankle areas, especially after walking, running, or standing for long periods of time. I thought it was weird that both feet hurt, not just one. I first went to the doctor to see what was wrong about 10 years ago, and when the diagnosis was bunions. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to fix bunions other than surgery, so my goal was to try to keep them from getting worse by wearing “good” (comfortable, supportive, non-toe-squishing) shoes and stretching them. I’ve even done quite a few blog posts over the years about foot-friendly shoes and exercises! Here are just a few:
- Keeping Your Feet Happy (with tips from a physical therapist!)
- Working Out (and Running) with Bunions
- Foot-Friendly Sandals
- Foot-Friendly Fall Boots
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, my feet continued to get worse little by little over the years. By the time I had my first bunion surgery, my feet were aching 24/7.
In the past, bunion surgeries were legendary for their extremely long recovery times (6-12 months per foot) and excruciating pain. Luckily, in the past few years newer surgical methods have been developed, including 3-D bunion surgeries that have substantially less recovery time and less chance of recurrence (in “older” bunion surgery methods, repaired bunions sometimes reoccurred within 10-15 years). I was a candidate for the newer 3-D bunion surgery (see Lapiplasty for more information), and a teacher friend had recently had one of her feet fixed that way and was very happy with the results, so I decided to go forward with it.
School Year Bunion Surgery Scheduling
For each of my bunion surgeries, I would need to be non-weightbearing for 3 weeks and then wear a walking boot for 3 weeks. After those first 6 weeks I could ease carefully back into a loose sneaker to walk, and then slowly work back to my normal activities over the next 10 weeks. The 4-month mark is when full activity can be resumed. Here’s how I scheduled mine to miss the least amount of school:
- Surgery #1: the Monday of Thanksgiving week, so I had Thanksgiving break to recover, and I stayed home the following 2 weeks to keep off of my foot. I got back to school in the walking boot during finals week (the last week of school before Christmas).
- Surgery #2: the Friday before Spring Break, which meant I didn’t miss any school over spring break or Easter break, which was a Monday and Friday off of school during that time as well.
Having these two bunion surgeries during the school year did wipe out a lot of my banked sick leave; however, I wanted to have the summer to fully recover so I could get back the following school year at 100% capacity. I would do it this way again.
My recovery was nearly identical for both feet. Keeping in mind that everyone’s feet are unique, here was my own recovery timeline:
1. Week 1: Lots of pain, lots of sitting.
The first week was the worst, hands down. Not gonna lie, it’s very painful in those first few days. I even found it painful to sleep at night. Things that really helped me were elevating the foot and icing it. I didn’t ice much with the first foot, but I did with the second foot and I had far less swelling and pain due to the ice packs. I was able to move around with my walking crutch (see below) and the walking boot on as a cast if I needed to briefly get up or go get something.
2. Weeks 2-3: Feeling better, stumping around.
During the second and third weeks I didn’t have as much pain and swelling. However, I still could not bear weight on my foot. I could have used crutches or a knee scooter, but both seemed pretty cumbersome to me. Instead, I opted for the hands-free iWalk 3.0 walking crutch. It was kind of like a pirate’s peg leg and did require good balance and core strength, but allowed me to use both of my hands. RECOMMENDATION: Buy it before your foot surgery and practice so you’ve got the hang of it before you really need to rely on it. I’m so glad I did this.
3. Weeks 3-6: Walking boot, feeling even better.
For weeks 4, 5, and 6 I could bear weight in a tall walking boot. Mine was the tall AirCast AirSelect Walker Brace. Since my first foot surgery was heading into winter, I also purchased a rain and snow resistant waterproof boot cover. I highly recommend one of these if you will be walking outside in your boot in snow or rain. The one I got is the ARunners Walking Boot Cover, which is on the pricey side, but worked perfectly for me. I took my dogs out in heavy snow and ice, as well as rainstorms, and my boot and foot stayed completely dry. I went back to school in the walking boot at the beginning of Week 4 for both foot surgeries, but I did try to sit and elevate my foot as much as possible the first few days back to school. Of course it wasn’t always possible, so sometimes I overdid it and had to ice a lot when I got home after school.
3. Weeks 7-8: Easing into Sneakers.
In Week 7 I was allowed to ditch the walking boot for a loose sneaker. My foot was still swollen, so I used a sneaker that was a little too big and pulled the laces very loose. During the previous 6 weeks, I had lost a lot of muscle and coordination in my foot, so it felt really strange to walk on it again. Over the next 2 weeks, though, it comes back. My big toes were stiff and I had to tread carefully, and if I was on my feet too much I’d experience swelling and have to back off a little.
4. Weeks 9-16: Easing into Everything Else.
Little by little, my foot felt better and I could walk farther, move more quickly, and balance better. My foot size slowly returned to normal, and was actually about 1/2 to 1 full size smaller than before due to the decreased width across my toe box. I do have lengthy scars on both feet, but they seem to be fading. I don’t think they will ever fully go away, but they appear to be getting smaller and lighter as time goes on. However, it’s summer now and I’m back to wearing my Birkenstocks as you can see from the Birk tan lines. Along with the tan lines, the sun exposure has also caused my scar to temporarily get a little darker.
What About Exercise?
I tried to keep as active as was safely possible the whole time during my bunion surgery recovery. While I was non-weightbearing and getting around on the walking crutch, I did upper body workouts like push-ups on the counter and hand weights. I was also able to do some ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches. Just using the hands-free walking crutch was a workout in itself! It required me to keep my core tight and have good posture, and lifting the extra weight with the peg leg worked my glutes and hamstrings quite a bit just walking around the house. I went back to the gym during Week 4 in my walking boot and modified everything to avoid putting weight on my operative foot. During Week 7 I took a break from the gym to allow my foot to get used to walking in a sneaker again, but in Week 8 I was back to the gym, again with modifications. I am a fitness instructor, but I did not teach any fitness classes until late Week 9 or early Week 10, and at that point it was just upper body resistance training classes. I was able to get back to teaching kickboxing classes (without making contact during kicks with the operative foot) around that time and lower body resistance classes soon after that. As of today, July 26th, I’m about 4 months off of my second foot surgery. I would say my late November foot is back to 100% capacity, and my late March foot is at about 90% with just some remaining stiffness in the big toe joint that I am working on.
Foot Surgery Savers
These are all of the things that got me through bunion surgeries on both feet with flying colors. *ALWAYS check with your doctor first to see what’s right for you.
If I had to have 3-D bunion surgery a third time, I’d be a pro. Here is some advice I would give myself if I had a third foot with a bunion. (Remember, I’m not a doctor!)
- If recommended by your doctor, have a “block” for the surgery pain. I had one with my second foot and it reduced the pain so much in the first day and a half.
- Take the pain medication prescribed by your doctor, but only as long as you need it. I took the “heavier” prescribed meds for the first few days, but I didn’t like how they made me feel dizzy and made me nauseous. I did, however, keep taking the baby aspirin (clot preventative) while non-weightbearing and some over-the-counter ibuprofen for several weeks after to help with swelling.
- Find a great substitute teacher you can trust. I know, that’s not always easy. I was incredibly lucky to have an amazing sub take over for me while I recovered. We worked in tandem, with me planning lessons and doing light grading while sitting home with my foot elevated and iced and my sub doing the actual teaching in my classroom. We communicated throughout the day via email and text, and things were incredibly smooth.
- Plan and prepare as much as possible before your surgery. In a perfect world, when a teacher is “off” the teacher could actually be off duty. This wasn’t the case for me because I wanted to stay on top of my students’ work and progress. Was I getting paid for this? No, but it made it so much easier for me to come back because I was up to date and following along the whole time.
- ICE, ICE, ICE! With my first bunion surgery, I didn’t ice that much. My foot swelled quite a bit and had more pain. With the second foot, I iced on and off throughout the day, and it made a huge difference: much less swelling and minimal pain. These reusable ice packs can be adjusted to stay exactly where you need them: bliss!
- REST, REST, REST! Although you want to keep moving some and do minimal exercise as it’s safe, you do need rest. Surgery is hard on your body. Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and take naps to help your body heal.
- If you are scheduling your surgeries during the school year, try to match them up with school holidays to minimize the days you need to take off, which also helps to minimize disruption to student learning.
- Get a water/snow proof boot cover for outside for the first 6 weeks. This kept my boot clean when it was snowy, wet, or muddy outside.
- Use adult daily bathing wipes to stretch the time between showers (it’s really hard to shower!). When you do shower, it’s good to have a slip-resistant stool for the shower since you’ll have to sit down. It’s also to have a boot cover for the shower to keep your incision area dry during the first 2-3 weeks. The shower cover is much easier than tying garbage bag tightly onto your leg.
- Once your surgical wraps come off and your stitches are out, your foot may still be swollen and sore. Mine was, so I bought some super-soft and loose medical/diabetic socks. These helped immensely and I wore them probably through Week 8, even when I was back in sneakers still having the last bit of swelling.
- Take it easy on yourself. Some days will you’ll feel great and some days you’ll have more pain or a setback. Stay positive and keep moving forward, and always, always, always listen to your doctor and follow your treatment plan.
Was It Worth It?
For me, the answer to this question is a resounding YES! For the first time in over 10 years, I can walk around and not notice my feet. This is huge! When something always hurts, it is always on your mind. Before my surgeries, my feet always hurt, every minute I was on them. At their worst right before my surgeries, I was even developing secondary conditions like plantar fasciitis in both feet due to the bunions getting worse. I used to say it felt like I always had a headache in my feet, but lately they would ramp up into full-blown migraines at times. My ankles were becoming achy as well, and there was no end in sight. My feet are now pain-free! A side perk is that I can now wear “normal” shoes, not just comfort and orthotic shoes and shoes with an extra-wide toe box. For me, both surgeries were a total success.
Feel free to ask any questions you have! I had a million questions before I underwent these surgeries, and one way I got information was finding other people’s stories.