Reconstructive Foot Surgery: What Is It and Do I Need It?
Time for a fun fact about feet! Did you know that your feet never stop growing or changing shape, no matter how old you are?
It’s true! In fact, it’s not that unusual for your feet to gain about half a shoe size every decade or so through adulthood. Wear and tear, hormones that relax joints, and even increased body weight can very slowly make feet flatter, wider, and longer over time.
Of course, while some foot changes are normal and nothing to worry about, others aren’t quite so benign. We’re talking about things like:
- Collapsed arches
- Foot fractures or ankle fractures that don’t heal properly
- Diabetic foot collapse (Charcot foot)
… and that’s just a quick list of the most likely issues you may face when it comes to your feet.
Those kinds of foot changes are not simply a part of getting older. They are painful, problematic, and potentially life-altering conditions. They slow you down, keep you from enjoying your favorite activities, even rob you of your independence.
But how do you deal with them? One option is reconstructive surgery. But that may not be the right approach for everyone—it depends on your situation.
What Is Foot and Ankle Reconstructive Surgery?
Many painful foot conditions arise directly or indirectly from a fundamental problem with the structure of your feet.
Bunions, of course, would be an obvious example. That’s a foot deformity you can clearly see. Your big toe gets pushed out of a position. A big, ugly bump forms at the base of your big toe. Painful calluses and sores can appear on the side of the foot. Wearing shoes or walking comfortably can become nearly impossible.
But not all structural foot problems are so “in your face.” For example, if you were born with unusually flat arches, you might not even be aware you have a structural foot fault. But it’s possible that your flat feet might make you more prone to developing heel pain, arch pain, a Morton’s neuroma, or other injuries or complications.
The goal of reconstructive surgery, then, is to properly correct, reposition, and realign a malformed or displaced foot structure. The potential benefits include:
- Restoring a normal appearance to the foot
- Relieving pain directly or indirectly caused by the structural defect
- Enabling a higher level of function and a return to normal activities
There are a wide variety of techniques, procedures, and approaches available to a surgeon conducting reconstructive surgery. The lineup includes cutting and repositioning bones (osteotomy), fusing unstable joints together (arthrodesis), and reinforcing or transferring ligaments and tendons—to name a few.
The best choice of approach will depend on factors like the age of the patient, the type and severity of the condition, whether or not any previous surgeries have been conducted, etc.
Do I Need Reconstructive Surgery for My Foot Problem?
Let’s say you do have a bunion, or a flat foot, or some other alignment issue that is causing you pain and difficulty in your day-to-day life. Does that mean you need reconstructive surgery?
Not necessarily. At our clinic, we’re very much on team “surgery as a last resort.”
That’s not to say we don’t like performing reconstructive surgery. On the contrary, we love it! We’re good at it, and we love the difference it can make in our patients’ lives.
But we’re not going to recommend a procedure you don’t absolutely need when there’s a less invasive alternative available that can work.
Here are some questions we’ll work through in order to determine whether or not reconstructive surgery is the right choice for your lifestyle:
- How long have you had pain?
Unfortunately, many people put up with suffering from months or even years before they give us a call. In those cases, it’s more likely that surgery is going to be inevitable, at least eventually. But if your pain is a more recent phenomenon, there’s a good chance we can help you conservatively.
- How is your pain interfering with activity?
This is the big one, and also the most subjective.
Some people can put up with a bit of a dull ache now and again—it might not be the greatest feeling in the world, but they still feel like they are enjoying a high quality of life and can participate in most of their favorite activities. Others might feel pain when they engage in a specific sort of activity, but it isn’t a major part of their life and they can usually just avoid painful activities. It’s really up to you to determine if this is something you can accept and tolerate or not.
On the other hand, if pain is making ordinary, day-to-day tasks difficult, and it’s really bothering you and affecting your lifestyle, that’s a pretty good indication that surgery might be necessary. Surgery might also be worth it to you even if the pain only affects specific activities, if those are the activities that are most important to you and you don’t want to give them up.
- What have you already tried?
In general, we usually don’t recommend a surgical procedure until any conservative methods which may be effective have been attempted. If you’ve been taking over-the-counter meds, trying different shoes, resting, or using other non-invasive treatment methods, and you still haven’t found any relief, it may be time to move on to the next stage.
- What other alternatives might be available?
In certain circumstances, a more advanced conservative therapy might provide an effective alternative to surgery. For example, a set of custom orthotics can provide needed support, cushioning, and even motion control. Orthotics for the feet are sort of like glasses or contacts for the eyes—they don’t “fix” your feet, but when you wear them, they can give your feet what they need to do their job well.
We’re one of the best in the business when it comes to orthotics, since we have our own on-site orthotics laboratory with computerized scanning technology. We’ve also invested in advanced regenerative medicine procedures that have proven exceedingly effective for pain and injury recovery.
If one or more of these procedures or technologies might help you avoid a surgery, we’ll certainly offer it as a treatment option.
Of course, if all reasonable alternatives have been attempted and you’re still struggling, then yes, we’ll probably recommend reconstructive surgery.
That’s not a bad thing, though! You’ll be receiving care from a trusted, knowledgeable, and skilled surgeon, who will also help support you through aftercare with easy-to-follow instructions and advice. We’ve been performing these surgeries for decades (while constantly revising our procedures to keep up with the latest evidence-based research), and the vast majority of our patients are very pleased with the results. A few months of recovery and rehabilitation are a small price to pay if the result is getting your life back!
For more information or to schedule your appointment, give us a call today at one of our three convenient locations.