Surgical hardware like screws and plates are designed to spur healing and stabilize bones, but they don’t always produced the intended effect. Inserting hardware is an imperfect science because everyone displaces stress differently on their feet, so what might work for one person may cause pain with another. The majority of people achieve great results and forget they even have hardware in their foot, but others aren’t so fortunate. Below, we take a look at what to do if you’re experiencing pain with your surgical hardware after an operation.
Painful Surgical Hardware
Hardware that is inserted during a surgical procedure is very small and often inserted using precision guidance techniques, but even the most skilled surgeon can’t predict how a foot will respond to the foreign object. Even if the hardware remains in the correct position, it can irritate nearby soft tissues and ligaments, and that’s even more evident should the hardware shift at all during the recovery phase.
You might think that the only way to treat hardware that is causing discomfort is by having a secondary operation to remove the object once healing has taken place, but that’s not always the case. In fact, doctors would prefer not to perform a hardware removal, because as the saying goes in the orthopedic surgeon community, “You never look good taking hardware out.” Removal can cause even more problems, and it’s not an easy surgery, so doctors are keen to jump in and remove hardware for minor discomfort.
Nonsurgical treatment options to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by problematic hardware include:
Shoe modifications/Transitioning to a more comfortable shoe.
Applying padding or cushioning over the area before inserting into a shoe.
Taking anti-inflammatory agents to prevent swelling and inflammation that is causing pain.
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) to help aid healing.
Surgery To Remove Hardware
If pain and discomfort doesn’t fade with the help of conservative care methods, or you have a serious problem like you are allergic to the hardware, surgery may be your best option. Again, since surgeons don’t like to remove hardware, they will have a serious talk with you about the benefits and potential drawbacks of hardware removal surgery to determine if it’s something that’s really in your best interest.
The process will begin by taking X-ray images of the surgical site to identify why the hardware is causing problems. Once the problem is identified, surgeons will chart a course for removal. For most implants, this will involve giving the patient regional anesthesia, which means they will remain awake for the procedure but unable to feel anything. The surgeon will go through the same incisions used in the original operation to reduce the amount of scarring on your foot. The surgeon will then remove part or all of the problematic hardware, and insert a different option if an allergic reaction was the root cause of problems. After the hardware is removed, the surgeon will determine if the foot is stable and what course of rehab will ensure symptoms remain minimal. From there, they will seal the incision site and send you off to a recovery room.