We all stub our toes or dropped something on our feet once in a while, but sometimes the pain doesn't go away, and we discover we have a broken toe. There are 26 bones in the feet, of which 14 are phalanges or toe bones. Our toes are very important to maintaining balance while walking, so when we injure our toes, even to a minor degree, we notice it immediately.
Unless you can see the bone or the toe is sitting at a strange angle, it can be hard to tell the difference between a broken toe and one that has just been badly stubbed. If you experience pain for more than a few days, see serious discoloration, or have difficulty walking, you probably have a broken toe.
Trauma is the most common cause of broken toes. Stubbing your toe, dropping something heavy on your toe, or having your toe stepped on or run over can result in a break. Repetitive stress injuries or stress fractures, often from playing sports, can also be to blame.
If you suspect you have a broken toe, see your doctor. He or she may use an x-ray to determine whether you have a broken toe or a sprain. Depending on the break and whether there are complications, you may or may not need follow-up care.
Unless you have other broken bones in the foot, have a compound fracture, or have broken a big toe, chances are you won't have to wear a splint, boot, or cast. The most common treatment for breaking one of the four smaller toes is to tape it to its neighbor and let it heal on its own.
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The amount of time it takes to heal a broken toe depends on the toe and the type of break. If you broke the little (pinky) toe, it will take about four weeks to heal. Other toes may take four to six weeks to heal, but you may experience stiffness and arthritic pain in that toe.
Besides pain, there are several symptoms you might experience if you have a broken toe. Your toe and foot may be red, and you may notice swelling, bruising, or discoloration. The nail of the broken toe might be bruised or have blood underneath it. The toe may appear crooked or deformed.
The good news is that you can take care of simple toe fractures with rest, ice, and keeping your foot propped up and elevated. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers. You may also have to buddy tape your broken toe to be sure it heals correctly. Wear comfortable shoes that do not pinch your toes and stay off your feet when you can.
Your doctor may recommend that you "buddy tape" your broken toe. This requires you to loosely tape the broken toe to the next bigger toe beside it. Put some cotton balls or cotton gauze between the two so that they will not chafe. The "buddy" toe acts as a splint and helps the broken toe heal straight.
If you experience cold or tingling toes, an open wound near the toe, or your skin turns blue or gray, you need to seek medical attention immediately; these could be serious signs of lack of circulation or an infection. Complications such as osteoarthritis can also arise if the break affects the joint.
Sometimes broken toes can be prevented. In many cases, simply wearing sturdy, protective shoes is enough to keep your toes from getting injured. If you're going for a walk or a hike, or know you'll be running through uneven terrain, closed-toe shoes offer more protection than sandals. If you work in a high-hazard area, you may want to consider wearing reinforced or "steel-toed" work boots that are designed to protect your toes from serious injury.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.