Surgery can be a scary word, especially if you鈥檝e never gone under the knife. There鈥檚 the unknown factor, it ain鈥檛 cheap and most of all 鈥 it can hurt.

But if you鈥檙e one of the approximately 23 percent of people aged 18 to 65 lucky enough to be #blessed with what appears to be a slight (or, ok, maybe monstrous) protrusion coming from your big toe, also known as a bunion, it may be something you need to consider sooner than you think 鈥 maybe even as soon as age 30, or younger.

Whether this was a cruel gift bestowed upon you by your parents (about 50 percent of bunions are genetic) or a direct result of your commitment to fashion at all costs (ahem, sky-high heels), this condition can range from a mere cosmetic annoyance to a serious medical issue. And either one might be reason enough to go through with bunion removal, according to Dr. Neal Blitz, DPM 鈥 AKA 鈥淭he Bunion King of New York.鈥

feet in socks

Blitz tells us that someone may choose to have the procedure for 鈥渁 whole host of reasons. The most common reason [is] pain and difficulty fitting shoes, and then cosmetic, in that order,鈥 he shares. And oftentimes it鈥檚 a case of the sooner, the better.

鈥淭he joint has a better chance of bouncing back [if you have] a younger, healthier body [that is] more apt to respond to that surgery,鈥 he explains to us.

First things first: What IS a bunion, and do you even have one? Those with bunions typically know it, as it usually results in a clearly visible malformation on the side of the big toe. But while it may appear that you鈥檝e sprouted some abnormal growth or even grew an 鈥渆xtra bone,鈥 that funky thing on the side of your foot is actually probably not what you think.

鈥淎 bunion is a big toe joint that鈥檚 not aligned anymore,鈥 Blitz says. Bunion surgery, then, is just a corrective procedure to straighten that bad boy out. 鈥淸We] have to realign the bones,鈥 Blitz explains.

But not all bunions are created equal. Some are barely noticeable; nothing more than a minor nuisance, while others can create some major health issues, the worst of all being permanent foot disfigurement (we鈥檝e done the research, and trust us when we say it isn鈥檛 pretty!).

So which type do you have? Unfortunately, it鈥檚 just about anyone鈥檚 guess, as bunions often get progressively worse over time. 鈥淲e don鈥檛 know if the foot will stay mild,鈥 Blitz warns. 鈥淭here鈥檚 a tipping point. [Bunions] can go from small to large very quickly. [When that] happens, it can deform the entire foot.鈥

Yikes! Take heed: There ARE a few things you can do. If your bunions aren鈥檛 bothering you, or if you simply aren鈥檛 quite ready to commit to (gulp!) a full-blown operation, Blitz says there are several short-term solutions that may help. Blitz recommends putting a space between your first and second toe (he suggests using something that鈥檚 鈥渘ot too bulky,鈥) using moleskin padding on the inside of your shoes and trying your luck with a 鈥淏union-Aider鈥 (Dr. Blitz describes this as a sort of 鈥減opsicle stick鈥 for your big toe that is meant to keep it straight and slow progression).

feet by radiator

If you鈥檙e already past the point of minimizing symptoms, however, it may be time for a consultation while you鈥檙e in your prime healing years. Blitz says some of the warning signs that you may be hitting that aforementioned tipping point include your big toe touching your second toe, developing sores or blisters over the bunion (a sign that it鈥檚 rubbing up against your shoes) and pain on the ball of your foot, which is in an indicator that your weight is no longer underneath the toe, where it should be. Constant pain is another hint that things may be going south.

But it doesn鈥檛 have to be the big scary monster you鈥檝e made it out to be in your head. 鈥淏union surgery is not what it used to be,鈥 Blitz assures us. It used to be a procedure that required 鈥渁 cast and crutches for six weeks,鈥 he recalls. Nowadays, that鈥檚 not the case, thanks to surgical developments such as Blitz鈥檚 patented bunionplasty procedure. With Blitz鈥檚 procedure, a medical device is implanted and used to hold the patient鈥檚 bone steady, with patients walking without casts or crutches right after surgery. Additionally, the large scar that used to come standard with a removal is moved to a hidden region on the side of the foot, as opposed to the more visible top area.

Even so, there are, as with any surgery, risks involved. Just like Blitz says he cannot foresee if a patient鈥檚 bunion will get worse over time, he also 鈥渞eally doesn鈥檛 know if you鈥檒l have a complication.鈥 With what Blitz estimates as 400,000 safe bunion procedures being performed annually, the odds are stacked in your favor, but the good doctor definitely recommends doing your research before choosing a surgeon to up those odds even further. He says you want to choose someone that has performed 鈥渁 fair amount of bunion surgeries, in addition to other types of surgery to ensure that they know how to handle your case.

鈥淏unions come in different sizes,鈥 he says. 鈥淛ust because someone can fix a small [bunion] does not mean that they can fix a large one.鈥 In fact, Blitz says that most people needing revision surgery 鈥渉ave a large bunion and had a surgery to correct a small one.鈥 Other tips? 鈥淸Check] before and after pics,鈥 he says. 鈥淕oogle your doctors and read the reviews鈥 they should be overwhelmingly positive. I think it鈥檚 also worthwhile [to ask about] malpractice history.鈥

Duly noted! Here鈥檚 to banishing those feet qualms for good!

Are you considering bunion surgery? Let know on Twitter at @britandco!

(Photos via Getty)