Toe Fracture

Thumbnail image of: Toe Fracture: Illustration

What is a toe fracture?

A toe fracture is a break or crack of the bone in your toe. You may have a break in several places or the break may be in a joint between the toes.

What is the cause?

Broken toes are often caused by a direct hit—like when you kick a hard object or something lands on the toe. A toe might also break if you twist your foot.

If you play a sport where you don't wear supportive shoes (such as martial arts, ballet, or gymnastics), you have a greater risk for toe injuries.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • pain, swelling, or tenderness
  • trouble walking or running
  • discolored skin
  • bleeding under the toenail
  • loss of a toenail

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask about your symptoms and how the injury happened. He or she will examine you. You will have X-rays of your foot.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the type of injury. Usually the broken toe is taped to the toe directly next to it while it heals. In rare cases surgery is needed to fix the broken bone.

Your provider may advise you to wear stiff-soled shoes. You may also be given crutches until you can walk without pain.

How can I help take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also:

  • To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may tell you to:
    • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
    • Keep the injured foot up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
    • Take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • If your toenail is loose and has not fallen off, keep a Band-Aid around it.

How long do the effects last?

It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for the toe to heal. If the fracture goes into a joint, your toe may keep feeling stiff. You may lose some range of motion.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your toe recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. The goal is to return to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

You may safely return to your normal activities when you can walk straight ahead without pain or limping.

How can I prevent a toe fracture?

Most broken ankles are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. However, shoes that fit well and give good support can help prevent injury. Also, try to avoid playing or running on surfaces that are uneven.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD.
Adult Advisor 2012.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-23
Last reviewed: 2012-01-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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