It’s hard to believe that a bone as a small as the one in your toe
could cause so much pain when broken. Often referred to as a toe fracture,
broken toes are most commonly the result of trauma or injury and can also
be caused by
repetitive movements such as those in sports. For many of us, the pain of hurting our toes,
though uncomfortable and jarring, is most often temporary. However, it
can be difficult to tell sometimes if this simple injury is more complicated
than you think.
If you’ve ever
fallen down the stairs, tripped over clutter, or dropped something heavy on your toe,
your stubbed toe may actually be broken if it is:
- Red and bruised
- Extremely painful
- Hard to walk on
- Stiff, swollen, and feeling hot
In more serious cases, you may notice:
- Bleeding or a split in the toenail
- A bone protruding through the skin
- Change in skin tone to blue or grey
- Any kind of deformity
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, contact a medical
professional immediately. They will likely take an x-ray of the fracture
and determine whether they need to reset the bone.
If your doctor determines you can apply self-treatment, help mitigate the
swelling by icing the affected area and be sure to elevate the foot and
avoid any pressure to the broken toe. This might mean staying off your
feet and not wearing constricting shoes for a few days.
When cared for correctly, a broken toe can heal in about four to six weeks.
Your doctor may also recommend that you pick up some pain medication as
well as try buddy taping.
Buddy taping is where you tape your broken toe to the toe next to it. To do this:
- Place a small piece of gauze or cotton between the broken toe and the toe
next to it to prevent blistering.
- Loosely wrap the toes together.
- Monitor the way the toes feel taped together – if the toe starts
to hurt or you notice swelling, the tape may be applied too tightly.
- If the toe hurts regardless of how loose the tape is, remove the buddy
Be sure to check in with your doctor if you feel your symptoms worsening
during this period.
Complications of an untreated broken toe
Treatment at home will heal a broken toe in most cases. However, when left
untreated a broken toe can lead to complications. Extreme cases may require surgery.
- Infection – If your toe injury is harsh enough to break the skin,
there’s a chance of bacteria infecting the broken bone. Also known
as osteomyelitis, this infection is caused by a staph bacteria and can
result in loss in range of motion and swelling around the bone. Depending
on the severity of the infection, your doctor may have to remove the bone.
- Compound fracture – Repeated stress to an already broken bone can
only make it worse, meaning that your simple toe fracture has the potential
to turn into a compound fracture where the bone pierces through the skin.
This also puts you at risk for infection.
Osteoarthritis – A
degenerative disease, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition of the joints caused by cartilage
degeneration. Most people with this illness experience
pain and swelling in the joints. In the case of an untreated broken toe, this can result
in difficulty walking and general foot pain as you age.
The next time you stub your toe, don’t leave things up to chance.
See your doctor or visit one of our urgent care clinics in
Northern California and
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.