What to Expect from Cheilectomy Surgery

A cheilectomy operation is a surgical procedure which is done to remove bone spurs from the big toe. If you suffer from big toe pain or stiffness, big toe arthritis or hallux rigidus, this operation might help you. You will want to know what to expect from cheilectomy surgery if you or a loved one are going to have this surgery.

I am writing this lens about what to expect from cheilectomy (sometimes misspelled kailectomy or chilectomy) because I had the procedure myself nearly 2 years ago. I want to share my own experience and tell you what to expect. I also have some great tips, as someone who has been through a cheilectomy surgery.

This operation will reduce toe stiffness and pain, and allow you a greater range of motion. However, there are a few things to weigh up first.

Your doctor might give you the option of having this surgery, having a different surgery or treating your big toe problem non-surgically, so it is important to make the right choice. There is no such thing as spending too much time researching the different options. Your health is the most important thing you have, so ensure you make the right decision when considering what to expect from cheilectomy.

Look After Your Feet

Our toes are very important for walking and balance, so we should take good care of them!

Is cheilectomy surgery worth the temporary pain? Is it really the best operation for you? Do you want to know what to expect and how long until you can walk again unaided?

Keep reading and I will do my best to answer those questions. I’d like to say here I am not a medical professional. I am simply sharing my own experiences. If you have any medical questions you should speak to your own doctor. But hopefully I can answer some of your questions.

Medical Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. The information I am sharing here is to supplement the information your doctor has given you. If you feel your doctor is not doing enough or is unwilling to listen to your concerns, I would strongly encourage you to seek a second opinion.

My Cheilectomy Story

chielectomy-1Photo taken just before I had my stitches removed

I started having pain on top of my right foot in summer 2010. I first noticed it when trying on a pair of hiking boots. It felt like the underside of one of the lacing studs was pressing into the top of my big toe base.

Within a few weeks the spot was becoming more tender and the only shoes I could wear were Ugg boots or flip-flops. Even though it looked normal, something wasn’t right, so I made an appointment to see my GP.

When I got to the surgery I told him my mother had recently been diagnosed with osteo-arthritis (Hallux Rigidus) and perhaps it was hereditary. The GP told me that at age 34 I was quite young for any kind of arthritis, but he would get a foot x-ray so they could see what they were dealing with.

I got the results back a few days later and the GP told me I did have osteo-arthritis, and the x-ray showed bone spurs growing diagonally upwards around the base of the big toe.

My footwear was pressing down on these bone spurs and that’s where the pain came from. I also had pain at random times (usually when walking but sometimes just while seated or even lying in bed).

The next thing was an appointment at the hospital with a specialist, and I was given 3 options. I learned more about what to expect from cheilectomy surgery.

The 3 Options

chielectomy-2First, I could go for a cheilectomy, which is when the toe is cut open on top, the bone spurs are shaved off and the foot is sewn back up. I was informed this was usually successful and I would be back walking (without crutches) in a few weeks. I was also told I might need the procedure every 10 years for the rest of my life, since the bone spurs were likely to return.

The second choice was having big toe fusion treatment, which meant the toe would be permanently straightened.

However, although this would be a permanent solution it is usually recommended for older patients, since you have to wear flat shoes afterwards and you can’t bend your big toe again. Anyone who likes to wear heels on occasion or who does any form of sport or exercise needs to be aware of that.

The third option is non-surgical treatments which include exercises such as stretching and taking painkillers, but I was already sick of wearing nothing but Ugg boots and I wanted this sorted out once and for all. So I went for the cheilectomy.

My Operation

I had my operation in The Netherlands where I live with my fiance (I’m English though). I was understandably nervous on the day of my operation, although everything had been explained to me. I was giving some painkillers and anesthetic and woke up about an hour later to find the operation had been done.

How It Felt

chielectomy-3My foot was wrapped in a bandage and it was beginning to ache. I got some more painkillers and was also given 2 different types which I would be taking for the next couple of weeks.

The hospital didn’t have any crutches. Instead we had to go and rent them! Yep, that’s Holland unfortunately.

However they offered to lend me some so I could get downstairs and into the car. That is when I put my foot down on the floor (most people are able to do this) and OUCH!! That was not something I could do.

Not a pretty picture but the scar is nearly invisible now

So they loaned me a wheelchair instead and then I had to shuffle into the car, and wait outside the crutch hire place while Ruud (my boyfriend at the time but husband now) went in and rented some.

Cluffy Wedge for Hallux Limitus

cluffy-wedge-reviewGet this clever pair of wedge insoles to wear inside your soles to reduce/relieve big toe pain. The Cluffy Wedge stops foot pain, allowing proper toe function.

6 out of 10 runners claim it enhances their running performance and anyone with big toe pain or pressure should find this wedge makes a lot of difference. It allows your toe to move and flex naturally while supporting and cushioning it.

You can get the Cluffy Wedge in small medium or large. You can get these online from various retailers but Amazon is the cheapest I’ve found.

Cluffy Wedge, on Amazon

How to Fit the Cluffy Wedge

Buy a pair of Cluffy Wedges (see above) and watch this video before you fit them. I have not used these myself but if you click the Amazon link above you will be able to read the reviews and see how other people got on with them.

Cheilectomy Recovery – It Does Get Better

I managed to hobble/hop around at home for a couple of weeks and I learnt how to use a rubber band to secure a plastic bag around my foot, and other various tricks to make life easier. The pain came and went but on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being hardly noticeable and 10 being excruciating, I would say the worst I ever had was about a 7, never higher. Some people will have worse pain and others might barely have any.

I was on a pair of crutches for 2 weeks, then a walking stick for another 2. This was December in The Netherlands, and hobbling around on the snow/ice was not easy!

I started to have physiotherapy. In The Netherlands the doctor will tell you to find your own physio, so we picked one which was within hobbling distance for me (I can’t drive).

Choose Your Cheilectomy Physio Wisely!

This was one of the worst mistakes I made. This physio was a “new age physiotherapist” and although I am interested in all things New Age (tarot cards, reiki, crystal healing and the like) when it comes to my health I usually like to try the standard treatments first and either complement that with New Age ones or just try the New Age ones if the traditional doesn’t work.

Anyway I had several treatments there, then I stopped going. The physiotherapist was trying to ‘clear my energies’ and rub strange-smelling ointments into my calf and foot.

My toe remained painful and stiff. A while later I found a different physio and this guy was way better. He expressed surprise at how stiff my toe was and began a rigorous massage to get it moving again. He also gave me exercises to do at home. After a few treatments the toe was much more flexible and less sore. I wished I’d found this physio before the other one though!

I had the stitches removed after 6 weeks (if I remember correctly) and that was painful! The nurse even left 1/2 stitch in which I managed to fish out later at home using a pair of tweezers!

How It Is Now

It’s been nearly 2 years since the operation and I can say my toe is about 90% back to normal. I get the occasional twinge and it’s sore the following day if I wear high heels (I wear them 3 times a month if that) but yes I can wear high heels again if I like! And I can bend the toe nearly (not quite) as much as the other one. I can jog, I can run, I can do yoga, and I can walk for an hour or 2 without even thinking about it!

Adjustable Folding Cane

cane-after-foot-surgeryYou are going to need one of these for sure. This cane folds up to fit in a carry-on bag or purse, so you can stow it safely while not in use.

This is a very similar model to my cane and it is really handy!

Once you no longer need the crutches you can progress to a walking stick or walking cane, just to offer a bit more stability and take the pressure off your toe while it is still in the early stages of healing.

Your toe can take up to a year to feel good again (or in my case 18 months but that was after disastrous physiotherapy) but it might still ache from time to time, so having one of these fold-up canes is a wonderful idea.

Duro-Med Adjustable Folding Cane with Carrying Case, on Amazon

Gel Big Toe Cap

toe-capSlip this thermoplastic gel cap over your toe for pain relief.

Use this for hammertoes, deformed nails, corns, ingrown toenails, to keep your socks hole-free, or to keep your toes comfortable while jogging. Use the big cap for your big toe or the small caps for smaller toes.

FootSmart Gel Toe Cap, on Amazon

Some More Hot Content For You

  • Ruth O’Leary

    Victoria – how long was it before you could get into regular shoes and ankle boots again (not sneakers)? Thx

    • A little over a year but I had a really bad physiotherapist to begin with, which I believe stalled my progress. I’d say 12 – 18 months to be conservative, and now, several years on, I can wear absolutely any shoe.

      • Ruth O’Leary

        Thanks so much for replying Victoria – glad to hear your recovery has gone well down the line.

  • I have similarly described my recovery history on this blog: http://cheilectomyexperience.blogspot.com

    • Victoria Haneveer

      That is a great blog, thanks for sharing!

  • Terese Fitzpatrick

    I did not have a chielectomy, but a toe implant. Wondered if you had any problems with the bottom of your surgery foot during recovery? you said it took a year to 18 months. What was that like?

    • Victoria Haneveer

      Hi Terese, I don’t know much about toe implants, only about the operation I had done, and the bottom of my foot wasn’t really the issue, just the big toe and area around there. Recovery was frustrating, as it is for any toe op, but I will stress again (like I did above) you MUST have good physio and do your exercises regularly, to get the foot back in optimal working order! I still have the odd twinge and might need another op in the future, but I just try to exercise the foot and stretch it and not let it get too cold. I wish you a speedy recovery!! All the best, Victoria

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