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What Is a Broken Toe?

How to treat toe pain from a broken toe

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Updated January 22, 2012

A broken toe is usually recognized immediately by severe pain and a cracking or popping sound that is heard as a small bone in the toe fractures. Most broken toes are the result of dropping something heavy on the toe. But a missed step, a stubbed toe or aggravated stress fractures from repeated impact on a hard surface may also result in a fractured toe.

Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Toe

When a bone in the toes break, pain is immediate and usually quite intense. The affected toe will swell and bruise. And if the break is traumatic, the toe may look crooked or deformed. Typically a broken toe results in the inability to walk normally and pain with walking or putting on shoes.

When To See a Doctor for Toe Pain

Any traumatic toe injury or crushing toe injury should be seen by a physician. If you have any numbness or tingling, an open wound or bleeding, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you have an obvious deformity, a visit to the doctor for an x-ray will determine if the bone needs any special treatment such as splinting or applying a cast. Most toe fractures are treated with a small splint or "buddy taping," in which the broken toe is taped to the toe next to it in order to keep it stable and aligned as it heals.

Home Treatment for a Broken Toe

Most toe fractures can be cared for at home with usual injury treatment that includes rest, ice and elevation.

While the bone heals, it's important to avoid walking or putting excess pressure on the joint. Ice the affected toe several times a day for no more than 20 minutes each time. Keep your foot elevated to decrease the swelling in the foot.

A shoe with a stiff sole is usually recommended in order to prevent any movement of the joint while walking.

You may also want to talk with your doctor about using an over-the-counter pain medication.

Broken Toe Complications

The most common complication of a broken toe is trauma to the toenail of the affected toe. Toenails may become discolored, turn black and blue and even fall out. The toenail will usually regrow normally, but it may be wise to see a podiatrist as you heal. A podiatrist can help you avoid ingrown toenails or any infection in the nail bed as your toe heals. If blood collects under the nail, a podiatrist may need to make a small hole in the nail to allow the blood to escape.

Broken Toe Healing Times

After the splint or buddy taping is removed, it's important to begin gentle stretching and range of motion exercises for the broken toe. The goal of the exercise is to obtain the same range of motion as the same toe on the opposite foot.

Most broken toes will heal within four to six weeks. Some people are more prone to chronic pain or stiffness in the affected joint, and in some cases, may develop arthritis in the future.

What Causes a Toe Stress Fracture

Stress fractures in the bones of the feet or toes are usually caused by overtraining or overuse. They can also be caused by repeated pounding or impact on a hard surface, such as running of concrete. Increasing the time, type or intensity of exercise too rapidly is another cause of stress fractures to the feet, as is wearing improper footwear.

Any foot pain that continues for more than one week should be seen by a doctor for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.

Source:

Robert L. Hatch, M.D., M.P.H, and Scott Hacking, M.D., Evaluation and Management of Toe Fractures. http://www.aafp.org/afp/20031215/2413.html. The American Academy of Family Physicians, December 15, 2003.

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