Broken Toe

1 What is Broken Toe?

A broken toe is a common injury and usually happens when a heavy object falls on your foot or if you hit your toe against a hard surface.

In most conditions, a broken toe is immobilized by taping it to a neighboring toe.

But if the fracture is complicated and severe — especially when it involves your big toe — a cast will be put on and surgical fixation may be an option to ensure proper healing of your broken toe.

It generally takes around 4-6 weeks for broken toe to heal completely. Severe injuries do take a longer time to heal.

In rare cases, depending on the precise location and severity of the injury, a broken toe may get infected or become more vulnerable to developing osteoarthritis in the future.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a broken toe include:

  •  Pain
  •  Swelling
  •  Discoloration
  •  Bruising around the injured area
  •  Collection of blood under the toenail
  •  Difficulty walking or wearing a shoe because of pain
  •  Toe may become bent at an angle if severely broken

Consult your doctor immediately if the pain, swelling and discoloration remains for more than a few days or if the injury hinders your ability to walk or wear shoes.

It is necessary to seek medical attention if there is an open wound at the site of the toe injury that needs to be cleaned in order to prevent infection.

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3 Causes

In most cases, a broken toe is caused when something heavy falls on your foot or you hit your toe against a hard surface.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of broken toe is done by several tests.

You may initially consult your family physician for first-aid measures until being referred to a doctor who specializes in orthopedic surgery.
You may make a list that includes:

  • A detailed description of your symptoms
  • A concise explanation of how you injured your toe
  • Information regarding other medical problems you have had
  • All medications and dietary supplements you are currently taking
  • Questions you may want to ask the doctor

Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:

  • How did the injury occur?
  • Were you barefoot at that time?
  • Where exactly does it hurt?
  • How many toes are involved?
  • Do any particular foot movements make your injury feel better or worse?

During the physical examination, your doctor will check for tenderness at certain points in your toes.

The skin around your injury will be examined to make sure it is intact and that the toe is continuing to receive adequate blood flow and nerve impulses.

If your doctor suspects that you have a broken toe, X-rays of your foot taken from a different angles will be advised.

5 Treatment

Broken toe and its symptoms can be treated by:

  • Medications: The pain experienced with simple toe fractures can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Stronger pain relievers may be prescribed if the pain is more severe.
  • Reduction: If the broken pieces of your toe bone do not fit snugly together, your doctor may manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions. This process is called reduction. In most cases, this is done without cutting open your skin. Ice or an injected anesthetic is used to make your toe numb during reduction.

Immobilization

For proper healing, a broken toe must be immobilized so that its ends can rejoin together.

Examples include:

  • Buddy taping: If there is a simple fracture in any of your smaller toes, your doctor will simply tape the injured toe to its neighboring toe. The uninjured toe will act as a splint.
  • Wear a stiff-bottomed shoe: Your doctor will prescribe a special post-surgical shoe with a stiff bottom and a soft top that closes with strips of fabric fastener. Wearing this kind of shoe protects your toe from flexing and provides more space to accommodate the swelling.
  • Casting: You may be given a walking cast if the fragments of your broken toe do not stay snugly together.
  • Surgery: In certain cases, surgery may be required during which the surgeon makes use of pins, plates or screws to maintain proper position of your bones during the healing period.

6 Lifestyle and Coping

There are different ways to adapt your lifestyle in coping with broken toe.

Elevation of the foot and applying ice helps reduce the swelling as well as pain to a certain extent.

Place your foot at a high position (at the level of your heart) whenever possible.

While applying ice, wrap a cloth around it so that it does not come in direct contact with your skin and be sure to apply it for only 20 minutes at a time.

7 Risks and Complications

Complications of a broken toe may include:

  • Infection: If there is an open wound on the skin near your injured toe, there is a higher risk of developing an infection in the bone.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is a wear-and-tear type of arthritis, and is more likely to occur in conditions where the fracture involves one of the toe joints.
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