Broken Toe Overview
If you think you have a broken toe, remember first that it could be a dislocated toe or a sprained toe. Your toes are composed of several small bones and one or more of these could be broken, sprained, dislocated or fractured, the broken toe symptoms section below gives you greater detail about what the problem likely is. Toe injuries are quite common and there is a wide array of toe injuries that can occur.
Broken toes are generally caused by trauma or injury but extended exposure to repetitive movements such as running, cycling or climbing can lead to toe fractures due to the stress continually placed on the toe. The symptoms range from swelling and toe deformity to extreme pain, stiffness and bruising. If the toe is actually broken, it is likely that you will have trouble walking. To avoid possible infections or long term damage, medical care should be sought if the toe is bleeding, going cold or numb (which can lead to a change in toe color to blue or grey).
To know where the toe is broken, a doctor or medical professional will likely take an x-ray to gain a better idea of what treatment is required. Severe injuries may need to the toe to be put back into place (reducing) or even require surgery, but many toe injuries can be handled with over-the-counter medication and home treatment or buddy-taping. Most broken toes are able to heal fully within six weeks.
Knowing the cause of your broken toe is important. The most likely cause as mentioned in the broken toe overview section is trauma and/or injury to the toe. Trauma to the foot can also cause toe injuries. If you are planning on seeing a toe doctor or looking for how to treat a broken toe know whether you stubbed or toe, tripped over something or whether the toe pain is a long terms symptom is of great value.
Medical professionals will be able to diagnose a broken toe much faster if you are able to pinpoint the location and explain the incidences leading up to your visit. If you are treating a broken toe at home, knowledge of the injury will help you heal and treat the broken toe symptoms much more efficiently. The big toes are commonly the toe injured. Dropping a heavy object or stubbing the joint can lead to broken bones a lot more easily than many people think.
Broken toe symptoms are far reaching and widespread. Although there are a few common elements that many people tend to recognize, everybody is different and no one quite feels pains the same way. Different bones may be broken and it’s important to know whether toe requires medical treatment or not. Some symptoms are universal, others are individual.
After you’ve injured your toe, the joint will swell, and become stiff. You’ll likely feel a range of toe pain from mild to severe. Bruising can often occur and you may notice that the toe does not appear ‘normal’ but instead may appear “deformed” or “bent” or out of place (a toe out of place may also be a dislocated toe). Putting any pressure on the toe such as pressure from walking will lead to an increase of pain. As previously mentioned the big toe is the most common toe to break and will be very noticeable at is bears the most of weight out of any toe while walking.
It is important to note that the smaller toes, especially the pinky toe may be broken but be as noticeable due to the lack of movement and pressure required by that particular toe. It is still vital to look for bruised skin and/or a bent and deformed appearance of the toe as well as to test for pain, swelling and stiffness. You want avoid broken toe complications that can arise out of neglecting to care for and treat a broken toe.
If you neglect to treat a broken toe, some more serious complications both immediate and long term can arise. Some of the immediate complications consist of:
Subungual Hematoma: This occurs when blood may pools underneath the toenail. The subungual hematoma must be drained if this complication arises and a doctor will actually make a small hole to drain the blood out. The injury can be very painful and the procedure can actually require the removal of the entire toenail depending on the size of the hematoma.
Open Fracture: Putting pressure on the toe or attempting to use the foot after a toe injury can lead to an open fracture which is when the broken toe sticks through the skin and is visible to the outside environment. Although this is rare, it is extremely painful and opens the toe to risk of infection. You should carefully cleanse the wound before seeing a toe doctor or medical professional for aid.
Some of the delayed complications consist of:
Extended Toe Pain: Even after the toe has been treated, a patient may still pain or stiffness in the toe and may display arthritic symptoms.
Improper Healing: In rare circumstances the toe may not heal correctly. The bone may not heal fully (nonunion) or improperly (malunion). The toe may also heal in a deformed or bent shape causing pain and/or discomfort while walking or wearing certain shoes.
Toe Infection: If the wound left open too long or is dirty there is a greater chance of infection developing which can lead to consequences that range from antibiotic medicine to toe amputation. It’s much better to give the toe immediate treatment instead of risking long term damage.
How to Treat a Broken Toe
Treating a broken toe at home is viable option if you’ve determined that the toe has displayed none of the broken toe complications listed above or any sever broken toe symptoms that would warrant medical attention. It’s even easier to home heal a toe if you only have a sprained toe or dislocated toe.
The general and safe procedure for helping a broken toe to heal at home is following the R.I.C.E. formula while minimizing the compression aspect.
Rest: If the toe hurts to use it makes sense to avoid exercise, walking and even standing if these actions cause toe pain. Although you may be required to move a certain amount in your day to day activities, minimizing movement or using crutches can help to alleviate any unnecessary pressure on the broken toe bones and leading to a faster recovery.
Ice: Putting ice on the injured toe slows inflammation and swelling to the area of an injury. Helping to soothe the inflammation helps to reduce some of the pain. Pain is also relieved as the ice numbs the sore toe tissues and reduces the pain-spasm reactions that occur between the nerves in the toe. When the ice is applied, the veins contract which reduces circulation to the area. When the ice is removed the veins overcompensate and dilate which leads to a rush of nutrients in the blood being brought to the injured area to expedite recovery.
Either use an icepack, a plastic bag filled with ice or even a bag of frozen peas or corn. It can help to apply a thin towel between the skin and ice to protect the skin. Icing should then be done for 20 minute periods every few hours for the first few days after the injury.
Compression: Since the is a small body part, compressing it can often cause more harm then good by placing pressure on the toe. The smaller toes may be hard to compress and may push the bones further out of place. Lightly compressing the big toe can help the toe recover, but remember not to overdo it. Although compression can help limit the swelling, it can also delay healing which is not good for the long term health of your feet.
Elevation: Elevating the toes is a better method to reduce swelling. Reducing the blood flow to the toes helps the swelling to go down and reduce the amount of pain you feel. While elevating the foot and toes you are also giving your body time to rest and avoiding any unnecessary use of your toes.
Over-the-counter medication for toe injuries such as Tylenol or ibuprofen can be taken for toe pain when treating a broken a toe at home. In the even the pain is extreme and you seek medical attention (next section), a doctor may prescribe strong medication or use a cast or splint to set the toe in place. Antibiotic medication may be required if the injured toe has been bleeding or exposed to an unclean environment.
Seeking the counsel of a medical professional if you think you have a broken toe is always a wise choice. A doctor will likely be able to pinpoint and locate the specific broken bone(s) by training, experience and the use of an x-ray machine if necessary. The quicker you seek medication attention after the injury the better as the toe will start to heal soon after you injure it and if any medical intervention is required, earlier is almost always better.
The doctor will generally ask questions and request that you gently move the toe or try to put light pressure on it to determine the nature of the injury. Sometimes x-ray machines will be used to diagnose the broken toe and in rare cases and MRI might be used.
If you choose to teat your broken toe at home you should carefully monitor your foot to make sure the toe injury hasn’t taken a turn for the worse. Some signs to look for include:
Increasing Toe Pain: If the toe pain starts increasing and is not relieved by over-the-counter medications, calling a doctor is a smart move to prevent the toe injury from worsening.
Sores or Signs of Infection: If the broken toe area starts showing signs of infection including increased redness, bleeding, sores, pus etc. calling a doctor or going to the hospital is necessary. Don’t wait and see if the toe will fix itself, take action to stop the problem from getting worse.
Cold, Numb, Tingling or Discoloured Toes: If the toe feels like its losing circulation or is becoming numb for no reason, seeking the help of am medical professional should be your next step. If the color of the toe starts changing to blue or grey the toe needs immediate attention and you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Open Toe Wound: If the toe wound is open, is bleeding or has opened more than once seeking medical care if the next move.
Broken Toe Cast: If the cast or splint applied either be yourself or by a doctor is broken or causing severe pain, seeking help is the right move. Holding out against the pain can cause long term damage to the toe.
If the broken toe is severely out of place the doctor will likely make use of casting, reduction or buddy taping. Casting is not usually required for toes, but if the bones are in particularly bad condition the doctor may cast the toe or provide special footwear designed to help keep the toe in place and ensure the toe heals correctly.
Reduction occurs when the toe doctor actually resets the toe position. If the toe fracture has caused the toe to be move far out of place, they will have to be realigned in order for them to mend correctly. Buddy taping is a less intense version that usually occurs if the broken toe is only minor. The doctor will wrap the toe with another beside it to reduce movement and ensure the toe stays aligned.
Always ask your doctor whether the toe is safe to bathe and whether the gauze or bandage can be unwrapped and rewrapped. If you are re-taping a broken toe yourself, ensure that a small layer of gauze or cotton is inserted in between the toes. This will help eliminate any changes of sores or blisters occurring between the toes. Additionally, make sure you wrap the toes snugly, but not too tightly to limit movement, yet keep circulation
Whether you’ve set the broken toe at home or sought the assistance of a medical professional, a follow up is always a good idea. Not only will you be prepared for any potential negative development, but there is always the chance that your toe may have healed faster and you’ll be able to return to your day to day routine earlier than you thought.
Remember that the best way to stop yourself from breaking toes is to act with prevention. Be cautious while moving barefoot, especially in dimly lit circumstances. Wearing protective shoes and other layers such as socks can help prevent or reduce potential toe injuries.
If you do injure your toe, they take on average approximately six weeks to heal depending on the seriousness of the injury. If any broken toe complications appear, seeing a doctor is vital to prevent future damage. Many broken toes are simple and just take time as well as R.I.C.E. to heal, however if the pain lasts longer than six weeks or is getting worse, make sure to take further action.
Always treat your body, not just your toes, with the utmost respect. Don’t overload any injured areas and when faced with a choice while having a toe injury, always exercise caution. Your body will thank you in the long run.