Toe Pain Symptoms

Broken vs Sprained ToeOne of the most important steps in identifying an injury is making sure that you identify it correctly. Today we’re going to be covering the differences between broken toe symptoms and sprained toe symptoms as knowing the steps to properly label an injury is very useful. A misdiagnoses can often cause additional harm on top of the original trauma. A toe sprain and a broken toe might be less at risk for such negative consequences but when infection and toe injury complications get involved there can be severe repercussions.

The best way to tell the difference between a sprained toe and a broken toe is to list the most common symptoms of each and then pick the defining characteristics that stand out for each particular injury.

Broken Toe Symptoms
Stiffness and difficulty moving the toe
Tenderness and swelling
Burning or tingling sensations
Sprained Toe Symptoms
Pain while moving the toe
Limited toe joint motion
Tenderness and swelling
Throbbing sensations

As you can see the symptoms are actually fairly similar. This can be a problem, especially coupled with the fact that everyone’s subjective experience of the injury and pain threshold is different. What we need to do now is highlight some key differences that will help you determine if the toe is broken and requires treatment.

By comparing the two lists we can see that bleeding is more commonly one of the symptoms of a broken toe (provided the toe was bleeding from the trauma, not from a cut). We also notice that there is pain while moving the sprained toe, but there is usually trouble moving the toe at all if its broken. This means that if you still have mobility in the toe (however painful), it is likely it is only sprained. Overall the sprained toe symptoms appear less serious than those of a broken toe.

An additional step we can take is to point out of some clear indicators that the toe is broken. Any bone protrusion, also known as an open fracture is a clear symptom of a broken toe. Extensive bleeding or the development of a subungual hematoma often means the toe is broken to some degree. If the person experiencing the broken toe appears disoriented or confused or even loses conscious it is likely the toe pain is indicative of a severe injury.

We always recommend you see a toe doctor or medical professional in the event you suspect you have a broken or sprained toe. The more severe toe injuries may require a hospital visit whereas many less significant versions should be treated as soon as possible but may not be life threatening. The key is to look for the symptoms that highlight the difference between a broken and sprained toe. If the indications are that the wound is serious, immediate action should be taken.

12 Responses to Broken Toe Symptoms vs Sprained Toe Symptoms

  • Andrea says:

    Thank you. I dislike not being able to find what I’m looking for right away. Thank you for also asking for my reply. It is appreciated. Also like the easy to understand wording you used helps for people like me who don’t understand all the medical lingo. I will visit again and encourage others too.

  • FoxyRN says:

    Great toe feels as if it is bruised but no discoloration is visible Walking or putting full weight on the foot is difficult related to excessive discomfort to frank pain. Cannot find logical explanation, looked at “runner’s toe”. No crepitus is noted. RICE for treatment, but seems as if little progress is being made. Immediate history prior to pain…daily walking routine on treadmill to 4.5 MPH wearing “rocker” shoes. Any thoughts? (history of a bunion repair on the same foot >30 years ago.)…yes, I am a nurse, and it is my right great toe which hurts like crazy at the distal plantar aspect of the toe. Going through treadmill withdrawal!

    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi FoxyRN,

      What you’ve described sounds like accumulated stress on the toe. Although very to the point, there’s not enough information to make a clear declaration about what to do. If the RICE treatment isn’t working the injury is likely not topical and requires further investigation by a doctor, especially if you’ve undergone bunion surgery.


  • Victoria says:

    Hi there,
    Thank-you for this well-written article.
    I am still however still unsure of what is causing me so much pain in my big toe and if you have any ideas they would be very much appreciated!
    I am a ballet dancer and three or so months ago I pushed my big toe too far towards my other toes one day and heard a snapping/clicking sound and ever since then it has been very painful to do anything requiring the big toe to bend (ie standing on ‘tip-toe’). I went to a physio and she just thought it was subluxed/bunion and would get better with lots of rest and exercises. However, it is still the same – very painful, clicks a lot when I walk, dull aching, sore to jump and the very occasional slight bruising. The pain is in the big toe joint mainly and also where a bunion would be. Thank-you very much for your time and thank-you once again for posting this article!

    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi Victoria,

      Based on your description it sounds like it might be a ligament or tendon stretch or tear. People who dance, practice yoga or engage in strenuous activity involving certain body parts sometimes push some of the tender ligaments a bit too far and end up injuring themselves. Immediate icing is usually a great remedy followed by a careful practice. If you still want to dance you may find yourself having to take several steps back and limit the types of movements you engage in. The good news is that as an athlete your more likely to heal faster but you have to remember to not push yourself too far too fast or risk delaying recovery. Go easy on the toe and see if there’s noticeable improvement continue adding more activity until it starts to negatively impact you. If there is no improvement take a week off and check again.


  • cuteduck72 says:

    ok so my big toe is swollen at the second joint and had split open from the nail on impact. It has been three weeks and if i stub it it reopens and hurts like it did before. I make sure to clean it with hydrogen peroxide and try to stay off of it because it hurts to walk, is it broken

    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi Cuteduck72,

      Try buddy wrapping the toe and protecting it either with thick socks, slippers boots depending on your environment. You want ton give the toe air when you’re resting but if you need to move, protect it at all costs in order to allow the healing process to not be broken. Rest and protection are key here.


  • SuperMom2 says:

    Hi. I’m not sure what I did to my toe. I was at work, stood up, and went to walk, realizing my left pinky toe was caught on a babies bouncy chair n it seems like I dislocated it. It hurts extremely bad. It’s swollen n kinda numbish n hot feeling…I get sharp pains n tingling…some of the pains shoot up my foot to my ankle… It really hurts to try n move it…I can bend it downward a TINY bit, but it won’t even go upward…only with my finger will it move up :( its horrible… Lots of pain….should I go to the dr?

    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi Amy,

      Try applying R.I.C.E. treatment for now and see if the swelling decreases. The swelling or tenderness could be the result of a sprain and may be more minor than you think. If the pain persists for next week with no noticeable improvement than you may want to see a doctor. If the toe appears misplaced than a dislocation is the most likely problem. For now rest as much as possible and see a doctor if necessary to get a closer analysis.


  • Kate says:

    Hi Toedoc

    I have broken my toe 2 days ago and am supposed to be flying in 2 days time.
    Are there likely to be any problems with this?


    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi Kate,

      Assuming you’re taking proper care of the toe and have it bandaged and prepared for travel it should be just fine. Be aware that airports are busy, bumpy areas that will increase your risk of injury. Travel with caution.


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