GENERAL FOOT SURGERY: What to know, expect, and how to manage recovery

August 19, 2011 Posted by Dr.Chang

Our feet are susceptible to a variety of injuries and conditions: fractures, flat feet, bunions, ingrown toenails, and the list goes on…and on… Anticipating surgical treatment for your feet can certainly be frustrating, but thinking about the positives of recovering from your injury and being pain free is an important element for a successful surgery and expedient recovery.  First off, if you are reading this blog, chances are you are in the experienced and attentive hands of Dr. Kevin Murray and Dr. Stewart Chang. With years of podiatric care and foot surgery under their belts, you can be confident that they will take great care of you and your feet. On a more personal note, think of the surgical recovery process as providing you with time to regroup and care for your feet, your body and your self. Preparation for surgery can allow for long-term planning of your podiatric health and the recovery process can enable you to enlist the support and care from your friends and family.

That being said, knowing more about your surgery and what to expect after surgery will help you prepare for the process, ensuring a successful and efficient recovery from general foot surgery.  The pointers below will provide guidelines and suggestions for the different steps along the way.


Each individual’s feet, injuries and conditions are unique, and it’s important that you know the basics of your injury and why surgery is the best option for you. Whether you are suffering from an injury or underlying condition, what surgical procedure you will have and the expectations from the procedure are all important questions for you and your podiatrist to answer together. You should also know whether you will have general or local anesthesia during the surgery and about the post-operative recovery room conditions, especially if you have other preexisting conditions (if you are diabetic, for example, note that glucose monitoring is available during surgery).

There is an enormous variety of surgical procedures and healing times for them. Cryosurgery, for example, has a recovery period of two days to a week. Other invasive surgeries can take up to six months or more to heal. This time frame could put a considerable wrench in your schedule and regular daily activities. Be sure to discuss a realistic recovery time frame with your Charlottesville or Waynesboro podiatrist so that you can plan ahead and give your body the proper time to rest.


Preparing for the post-operative phase begins well before your surgery even starts. Consider what care and support you’ll need, such as a drive home from the hospital and help cooking meals or taking showers. Enlist the support of your family, friends or a nurse. You will want to stock up on basic groceries for when you return home and medications you might need for after surgery. Chances are that your movement will be restricted, so you may want to have a bed on the ground floor or in a main room of your house. Having pillows to elevate your foot, a backrest for sitting up, water bottles, writing materials, and a way to keep track of your medications are all helpful post-surgery. You may need to supply yourself with a range of entertainment – a computer and plug within reach, DVDs, magazines, books, and music.

Showering can be challenging after getting surgery, and falls in the shower after surgery commonly lead to damage of the surgical area or additional injuries. Preparing the bathroom and shower area with grab bars and a shower stool may be helpful. You may also want to stock up on plastic garbage bags or purchase a cast protector in order to keep your leg and foot dry while showering. Obtaining a Temporary Handicap Placard from the DMV is possible for post-surgery patients. In most states this requires your physician to complete Temporary Disabled Parking Permit form. You can also download a form from the Virginia DMV.

POST SURGERY: Managing the Pain

After surgery, be prepared for your foot to swell at the incision site. This swelling is due to the increased blood flow in the foot because of the surgery and compounded by the lack of movement in your leg, decreasing your capacity to return blood to the heart. Swelling often causes pain. Since the greatest swelling occurs in the first few days after surgery, it is no surprise that this is also when you will need to pay the most attention to pain and swelling management.

Throughout your recovery process, and especially right after surgery, try hard to stay on top of your pain using a number of strategies. Your foot surgeon may use nerve blocks around the operative site that numb your foot and reduce pain for the hours immediately after the procedure. Your podiatric surgeon will also provide you with a prescription for narcotic pain medications. Be sure to discuss pain medication options with your podiatrist, and know whether your medication is long acting (requiring only 2-3 doses per day) or fast acting (requiring a higher dosage). Because pain medication side effects can include confusion, felling strange, and nausea and vomiting, keep track of your medication intake. Additionally, be aware that these drugs may also cause problems including constipation (which you can counteract with products like Metamucil) and the potential for addiction. Your podiatrist may also recommend that you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or Aleve, after the initial recovery period. Consult your podiatrist before self-prescribing these, as they may have negative effects on bone, tendon and ligament healing. These drugs can also cause stomach irritation, ulcers and kidney problems when taken in high dosages. Drink lots of water with NSAIDs and consult your podiatrist or physician if you are having any such side effects.

Other methods of pain-reduction include foot elevation (prop your foot up 6-18 inches above your heart as you lie down), avoiding activities that require you to keep your foot dangling downwards for long periods of time and using crutches and/or a walker to keep your weight off your foot. If your foot is not in a cast, then place ice in a plastic bag or use a cold pack, applying it to the swelling for 15 minutes at a time. Ice will restrict the blood vessels in your foot, reducing blood flow to the area just enough to help minimize the swelling. Note that you should never ice your foot when it is numb from post-operative drugs like nerve blocks, since your foot will be prone to frostbite.

On top of managing swelling, try to keep your bandages clean and dry in order to keep the incision site infection-free. Consult your local Charlottesville or Waynesboro podiatrist if your foot, ankle or leg turns blue, cold or numb or if you are running a fever or have thigh or calf pain.


Resting up is a full time job and will help your recovery enormously. In the first week to month after your surgery, you will need to be a dedicated couch potato, lying down with your foot elevated. Don’t plan on being productive during post-operative rest! Chances are that you will be woozy from your medications, in pain, and need more rest than anticipated. Just focus on your recovery, allowing yourself and your body the time it needs to be on the mend. In addition to plenty of rest, healing requires your attention to eating well and drinking plenty of water. Additionally, be sure to avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes as these will have negative effects on your healing process.

During the initial bed-ridden period, you can expect generalized soreness and aches, often because of being more sedentary than usual. Movement stimulates blood flow, cycling of oxygen and the removal of toxins from our bodies. Inactivity can therefore cause us to be sore. To counteract this achiness and to stimulate the release of toxins generally prompted by everyday exercise and movement, you can gently stretch, move and massage the non-effected areas of your body with neck, shoulder and arm rolls or by gently twisting your torso to loosen up your abdominal muscles. Do not stretch or massage your legs or feet until your podiatrist tells you it is okay to do so. And again, drink plenty of water and eat oxygen rich foods like vegetables (especially leafy greens) and fruits, in order to help flush your system and to provide metabolic support for your joints.


Once you’ve made it through the post-operative period of being a (healthy and medically sanctioned) couch potato and managed to finagle as many massages out of your family and friends as possible, it’s time for you to start activity again. In this phase, expect to visit the Physical Therapist often as well as your podiatrist for follow up appointments. Since your body has been sedentary while recovering, expect that you will feel slower and a bit weaker than you did before surgery. Work with your Physical Therapist and your podiatrist, pacing yourself with activity and being honest about your level of pain. Be sure that you don’t over-do the rehab process; slow and steady is the name of the game. If you feel like you’re doing too much too soon, speak with your physical therapist and podiatrist to modify your rehabilitation plan. And finally, recognize that your body should set the pace for recovery. Be patient with your feet and continue to be responsible and caring for them.

All the best with your surgery and recovery: stay positive, communicate you’re your health providers, accept help from your family and friends, and remember that you can control the conditions of your recovery, whether by healthy eating and fluid intake, managing swelling and pain or dedicated rehab. Your local Charlottesville and Waynesboro podiatrists, Dr. Chang and Dr. Murray, are around when you need them or have questions.

Comment on this post to share your thoughts or contact Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic. We’d love to hear from you!

Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic

              Charlottesville Podiatrist Location: 887 A Rio E Ct., Charlottesville VA, 22911 (434) 979-8116

Waynesboro Podiatrist Location: 417 S. Magnolia Waynesboro,VA 22980 540-949-5150

Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic has been a part of the Waynesboro and Charlottesville communities for over 20 years. Podiatrists Dr. Kevin Murray and Dr. Stewart Chang offer services in sports podiatry, foot and ankle problems and diabetic foot care. Our friendly, accommodating team of Certified Podiatric Medical Assistants look forward to welcoming you to our practice.


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