How Does a Toe Break?

Stubbing, bending, or dropping something on your toe can fracture the bone of your toe, making movement a painful struggle. A sudden increase in physical activity that put a lot of strain on the feet, like running, can cause a hairline crack or stress fracture.

Broken toes are common injuries and usually heal within four to six weeks. Immobilization is key to recovery, whether that means taping the wounded toe to its adjacent toe for stability, wearing a cast, or wearing a brace.

Symptoms

Telltale signs of a broken toe include:

  • A snap or pop during the moment of injury
  • Increase in pain when the toe is touched or moved
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Discoloration
  • Possible deformities, like the toe pointing in the wrong direction or jutting out at an odd angle
  • Decreased flexibility and movement

When to see a doctor: Talk to your doctor if swelling, discoloration, and/ or pain continue for more than a few days, especially if you’re having trouble walking or otherwise putting weight on the toe.

Treatment

During a physical exam, your doctor will examine the toe to check for tenderness, make sure the surrounding skin is intact, and make sure that the area is getting adequate circulation. If your doctor thinks your toe may be broken or wants clarification on the exact nature of the injury, he may recommend a series of X-rays be taken of your foot from all angles. After it has been confirmed that the toe is broken, you have several treatment options to choose from.

Medications

The pain that comes with a basic toe fracture can easily be treated with basic over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If the break is severe and the pain is interfering with your ability to walk or go about your day, a doctor can prescribe something stronger.

Reduction

Reduction is a method of realigning bone fragments in a fracture so that the toe fits snugly back in its proper position. A doctor can perform a reduction quickly and without surgery or even incision. Ice or an injectable anesthetic can help numb the area to avoid any pain.

Immobilization

Immobilization is a crucial part of stabilizing a broken toe and making sure that the fracture sets and heals correctly. Common methods of immobilization include:

  • Buddy taping: In cases of mild fractures, the broken toe can be taped to the toe next to it. The unbroken toe acts like a splint and stabilizes the injured toe until the fracture heals.
  • Wearing stiff-bottomed shoes: To minimize the amount of flexing and general movement you broken toe will do, a doctor may recommend a sturdy-soled, soft-topped post-surgical shoe that allows for support and room for swelling.
  • Casting: If the fracture is serious enough, a doctor may recommend a walking cast for the foot or lower leg in order to more permanently stabilize the injury.

Surgery

If the injury is severe or doesn’t respond to immobilization techniques, then a doctor may recommend surgery. Your toe can easily be reset with the help of pins and small plates, and recovery time is relatively quick.

Recovery

After seeing your doctor and seeking appropriate treatment for your injury, you should maintain a high level of care and safety at home to ensure the break doesn’t further fracture. Elevate your foot above heart level whenever possible, and ice the wounded area for up to twenty minutes at a time to reduce swelling and pain.