Screws, rods, plates and other types of hardware are all regularly used to stabilize fracture sites so bones in your feet can heal correctly. However, since their isn’t a lot of built in padding in our feet, some people complain that their hardware is uncomfortable or downright painful after a surgical operation. Below, we explain why that could happen and how the problem is fixed.
Why Does My Hardware Hurt?
Surgical hardware can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons. In most instances, hardware helps to expedite the healing process and no symptoms develop, but when problems do arise, they can be caused by irritation of a nearby tendon or soft tissue. Others may not like the sensation caused by walking on the foot and feeling the hardware under the skin.
If your hardware is uncomfortable, schedule a meeting with a foot specialist or the surgeon who performed your operation. They’ll take a closer look at your foot with a physical exam, and they may also take some imaging scans. In many cases, other forces besides just the hardware are at play. For example, you may be dealing with a bursa sac development or regionalized inflammation which may be making the hardware feel uncomfortable. In these cases, taking care of the true problem should help leave you with pain free hardware.
X-rays are the preferred imaging source for identifying problems with your hardware, but in some instances, other techniques are used to detect problems that don’t show up on a standard X-ray. MRI scans are rarely useful for identifying problems with metal implant, as it reacts to the scan in such a way that it obscures neighboring tissues.
Treating Painful Hardware
As we’ve said in this blog all along, in the vast majority of cases, hardware removal is not necessary. A common saying among orthopedic surgeons is, “you never look good taking hardware out.” There’s a lot more that can go wrong that can go right, and it really depends on symptoms. Obviously surgery will be performed if there is major pain or an allergic reaction to the implant, but if discomfort is minor or another issue is your root cause of pain, then the hardware won’t be taken out.
If surgery needs to be performed, it will usually be done on an outpatient basis. Most hardware removals can be performed with a regional anesthesia block, so while you can’t feel pain, you won’t need to be put out for the procedure. The same incision used for the original surgery will be opened and the hardware will be addressed. The hardware is then adjusted or taken out, the surgeon ensures the remaining bones are stable, the site is closed and you are sent off to a recovery ward.