What's in this article?
What is a Broken Toe?
A commonly injured area of the foot is the small bones of the toes (phalanges). There are 26 bones in the foot; 19 are bones in the forefoot (5 metatarsals and 14 phalanges). Trauma and the injury to the foot often causes one or more of the toe bones to break (fracture)
Symptoms & Causes a Broken Toe or fracture
You may break one of your toes by stubbing it, dropping something on it, or bending it. A hairline crack (stress fracture) may occur after a sudden increase in activity, such as increased running or walking.
Symptoms of a broken toe may include:
- A snap or pop at the time of the injury.
- Pain that is worse when the toe is moved or touched.
- Swelling and bruising.
- Possible deformity (not just swelling), such as a toe pointing in the wrong direction or that is twisted out of normal position. A dislocated toe can also look deformed.
- Decreased movement or movement that causes pain.
How do I know if I have Broken Toe?
A broken toe will be painful, swollen and red. There may be bruising of the skin around the area and sometimes a collection of blood beneath the toenail. You’ll find it difficult to walk and wearing a shoe will be painful.
If the break is severe, the toe may stick out at an angle.
Most broken toes can be cared for at home and medical treatment may not be necessary.
Do I need to see a doctor if I have Broken Toe?
You don’t always need to see a doctor for a broken (fractured) toe. You can manage this condition very safely yourself as long as the broken toe isn’t crooked or out of line and there is no skin wound over or near the fracture.
You should, however, see a doctor for your broken toe if:
- The pain becomes worse and isn’t relieved by normal painkillers.
- The swelling and bruising don’t start to improve in a few days.
- There is an open wound associated with the break.
- You have a medical condition that may affect your healing – for example, diabetes, heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, HIV.
- You are taking oral steroids.
You should go to an accident and emergency department if:
- The toe goes numb or tingly. This suggests pressure on, or damage to, the nerves to the toe (which run up the side of the toe, one on each side).
- The skin on the toes has turned blue (other than bruising) or grey and is cold to the touch when the other toes are not.
- The toe is bent at an angle or with an open wound.
- The toe is your big toe.
- You have more than one fractured toe.
- The injured person is a child: children may need a special boot for walking and may need a booster of their tetanus and diphtheria immunisation. It can be difficult to be certain that the child’s toe is not misaligned without an X-ray.
- The accident in which you damaged your toe was severe – for example, a fall from a height or a road traffic accident (you may have other injuries).
How Broken Toe is it Treated?
Home care after breaking a toe includes applying ice, elevating the foot, and rest. Medical treatment for a broken toe depends on which toe is broken, where in the toe the break is, and the severity of the break. If you do not have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, your toe can be “buddy-taped ” to your uninjured toe next to it. Protect the skin by putting some soft padding, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. Your injured toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal. If your injured toe hurts more after buddy taping it, remove the tape.
In rare cases, other treatment may be needed, including:
- Protecting the toe from additional injury. This may include using splints to stabilize the toe, a short leg cast, or a brace.
- Surgery, if the break is severe.
Medical treatment is needed more often for a broken big toe than for the other toes. An untreated fracture may cause long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.