Running After Bunion Surgery – What Runners Should Expect


Bunion surgery can be painful, but for most people, it’s a huge relief. The thing that was causing you pain and discomfort is now gone!

So it’s only natural that you might immediately start wondering when you can get back into running after bunion surgery.

It’s a bit of a fine line, really. Start too soon, and you can set yourself back for another few weeks or even months. So how do you know when the right time is to get back on the road?

Here’s our advice on how to handle yourself after surgery, some tips to speed up your recovery, and the right way to get back into your running.

What Is a Bunion?

A bunion is a bony bump that forms at the base of your big toe joint. This painful lump is caused by excess pressure being placed on the big toe joint, which ends up pushing the metatarsal bone and your big toe out of alignment.

As it progresses, the big toe begins to lean over towards the second toe. This ends up placing pressure in all the wrong places! It can cause pain, discomfort, and you might even develop other foot conditions, like hammer toe or metatarsalgia.

Bunions are progressive, which means they develop over time. As they do, they change the structure of the bone and the surrounding soft tissue. The skin around the bump can become red and may appear to be thicker around the base of the joint.

Although it’s more common for bunions to develop on your big toe joints, they can also form at the joint of your pinky toe. These are known as a Tailor’s bunion or a bunionette.

What Causes Bunions?

In a nutshell, bunions are caused by an excessive amount of pressure that’s placed on the joint, forcing the big toe out of alignment.

So the better question may be to ask what causes the pressure on the toe joint. There’s a variety of answers here:

Wrong Shoes

Wearing shoes that are tight-fitting, too narrow, or too pointed can put your foot under constant pressure. Every step you take rubs the wrong place, which can lead to a bunion developing.

Also, women who wear high-heeled shoes are more likely to develop bunions because their weight is shifted forward onto their toes pretty much all day.

Foot Shape

The shape of your foot or its structure can put you at a higher risk for developing bunions. For example, if you have low arches, flat feet, loose joints, or weakened tendons, bunions may be something you need to take precautions against early.

All of these things cause pressure to be distributed unevenly when you walk, placing your big toe joint under constant strain.

Inflammatory Conditions

If you have an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis, a neuromuscular condition, or an autoimmune disorder, you’re at a higher risk of developing bunions.

High-Impact Activity

If you are active, you can develop bunions more easily. But those who play high-impact sports are the most at risk.

Runners, in particular, may be at a higher risk because of the repetitive movement and the amount of shock your foot absorbs each time it comes into contact with the ground.

After all, your foot can absorb an impact force that’s up to three times your body weight in just a tenth of a second!

What Doesn’t Cause Bunions?

While it’s hard to nail down the exact cause of a bunion, there are plenty of myths about how they develop. One of the biggest myths is that bunions are caused by blisters, which is simply not true.

Blisters and bunions often occur together, but the blisters develop because the bunion rubs against the inside of your shoe. So bunions can cause blisters, not the other way around.

When Is Surgery Recommended?

Some runners who have bunions can run hard for years without any discomfort, while the pain associated with them can be problematic for others.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if your bunions have progressed to the point where they cause you severe or constant pain. Also, if the inflammation and swelling don’t ease up with rest or meds.

When the pain caused by your bunions interferes with your everyday routine, if you’re unable to bend or straighten your big toe, or if you’ve developed other foot conditions along the way, surgery may be the best option.

When Is Surgery Not Needed?

Bunions won’t go away by themselves and the condition will, unfortunately, continue to worsen over time. But that doesn’t mean every case will need surgery.

Most doctors won’t do bunion surgery if you’re looking to have it done purely for cosmetic reasons. Bunions may look weird, but they’re only a big problem when they begin to cause pain or change the way you walk.

Your doctor won’t recommend surgery if the bunion isn’t painful or just to prevent the bunions from worsening, especially if the symptoms are mild.

Instead, they’ll recommend that you try conservative treatment such as wearing supportive shoes, using orthotic devices, and including stretching exercises into your daily routine.

Fortunately, bunions develop slowly. Taking care of your bunion in the early stages can help delay the need for surgery.

Bunion Surgery Recovery Tips

It’s a good idea to take steps in advance to make your life easier when you get back from bunion surgery.

Set Up Your House for Your Recovery

Make sure that your house is easy to navigate and that you’ll be as comfortable as possible when you get home.

Start by choosing the most comfortable spot in your house for you to recover. Bear in mind that depending on the type of bunion surgery you’ve had, you may not be able to put any weight on your foot.

Avoid Hazards

It’s best to avoid stairs for at least the first 2 weeks of your recovery. If your home has multiple levels, consider staying on the ground floor for a bit. This will give you time to get used to walking around with a surgical boot and crutches.

Remove any loose rugs or mats, pieces of furniture, or appliances with cables that could be a tripping hazard. Make sure you have enough space to accommodate crutches when you move around between rooms. You really don’t want to bump your foot on something when you’re on the way to the kitchen or bathroom!

Set Up Your Space

Keep extra pillows within arm’s reach so that you can keep your foot elevated while you recover on the couch. Also, make sure you have a table close laden with:

  • Medication
  • Bottles of water
  • Snacks
  • Cellphone charger
  • Laptop and charger
  • TV remote

Get Stuff Done In Advance

You won’t be able to drive to the grocery store, so if you don’t have someone to do it for you, stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables before your surgery.

It’s a great idea to prepare your meals in advance. That way, you can reduce the amount of time spent on your feet. Warming something up is much quicker than cooking, and healthier than takeout!

Chat to your doctor beforehand about what medication you may need after your surgery, and ask if you can get your prescription (if needed) in advance.

Stock up on either a waterproof cast cover or plastic bags to cover your foot. Keeping it dry when you shower or bath will help speed up recovery time.

Apply Ice

Once you’re at home and recovering, you can apply ice to your foot to help reduce the swelling. It would be best to get reusable ice packs to prevent any liquids from leaking onto the bandage.

Don’t forget to rest, stay off your feet, and take advantage of the chill time!

How Long Does It Take To Heal Your Foot After a Surgery?

There are different types of bunion surgeries. The one your doctor recommends for you will depend on the size and severity of your bunion.

Small Bunions

Recovery time for a small or medium-sized bunion can take 4 to 6 weeks. The procedure is much less invasive as there’s only a need for a small cut into the bone.

Your bone should be healed in 6 weeks, but the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your foot would have been weakened by the bunion.

Your doctor will either recommend specific intrinsic foot muscle exercises or refer you to a physiotherapist for a period of time to guide you through the exercises.

Large Bunions

Surgery on larger bunions will take longer to heal due to the more invasive procedure. A bunion osteotomy corrects the alignment of the big toe by cutting the bone and realigning it.

The joints are held together with plates, pins, or screws and the surgeon will also repair the soft tissue surrounding the big toe. This will help the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to support the big toe and keep it in alignment during and after it’s healed.

Runners can expect recovery time to be delayed with this type of procedure. You may start to wear your normal running shoes after 8 weeks, but the bones and soft tissue can take another 3 to 4 months to heal properly.

Your doctor will want to see you regularly for several months and they’ll be able to make sure that you don’t return to your normal activities too soon.

Physical Signs of Recovery

Pay attention to how your body feels and monitor it for signs of improvement and recovery. If your foot is still swollen, then it’s still in the process of healing and it’s too early to train or do a light jog. You should also wait until the pain has subsided before you try to return to any activities.

The rule of thumb is that if you can walk briskly without pain and with a balanced, stable gait, then you can think about starting to jog.

If, however, your gait is unstable or unnatural and you feel pain (be it a twinge or a sharp pain) you should wait a bit longer before starting with your training.

How to Speed up Your Recovery?

The best advice for recovering as fast as possible is to take things slow. Returning to activity or bearing weight on your foot too soon can set you back months if your foot isn’t ready for it.

When your doctor gives you the thumbs-up, start doing low-impact activities like swimming or cycling. This will get your muscles moving again and prepare you for running.

Don’t neglect foot-strengthening exercises. Even light stretching and the exercises your doc recommends will build strength and prepare your foot for daily life and activity.

When you are able to bear weight on your foot again, take it step by step. Start by walking. If you can do so without pain or changing your gait, move up to light jogging.

If you can’t yet jog without pain or a wonky gait, go back to walking for a week or so and then try again.

Are You Ready to Run?

Remember that everyone heals differently and at their own pace. So before you lace up your running shoes to start running again, do this quick readiness test.

  • Can you walk briskly for 30 minutes without pain?
  • Do you still have your natural, stable gait?
  • Can you balance on each leg for 30 seconds?
  • Are you able to do 20 to 30 single-leg calf raises?
  • Can you do 15 to 20 single knee dips?

Sounds easy enough to do, right? If you can do all four, then you know you’ve rebuilt enough strength to be able to withstand the physical stress of running.

It’s a good idea to adjust your running schedule to allow for more rest days as you gradually return to your normal running distances. Also, spend some extra time warming up before your run.

If you experience any pain while you’re running, slow down or stop and then give your foot another few days to heal.

Speak to your doctor about what form of cross-training you can do if you’re not ready to get back to running but want to maintain your fitness levels. This will help provide opportunities for you to train without compromising your recovery.

How Can I Prevent Bunions From Running?

The first and most important step to preventing bunions is wearing the right footwear for bunions. Choose shoes that support your foot properly and cater to your type of pronation. Also, make sure they have a decently-sized toe box and don’t chafe, which could cause you to alter your gait.

Regular foot exercises can keep the ligaments, tendons, and muscles strong enough to support the joint.

If you’re worried about bunions developing, you can pay a visit to the podiatrist and get some expert advice.

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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.