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How to know you have a broken toe: Broken Toe: Symptoms, Recovery, and More

Broken Toe: Symptoms, Recovery, and More

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Learning to recognize the symptoms and treatment of a broken toe is important. If a broken toe is left untreated, it can lead to problems that may affect your ability to walk and run.

If you’ve ever stubbed your toe hard, the immediate, severe pain can leave you wondering if your toe is broken. In many cases, the injury winds up being a sprain. This is painful, but it means the bone itself is still intact.

If the toe bone breaks into one or more pieces, then you have a broken toe.

A poorly treated broken toe may also leave you in a lot of pain.

Throbbing pain in the toe is the first sign that it may be broken. You may also hear the bone break at the time of injury. A broken bone, also called a fracture, may also cause swelling at the break.

If you’ve broken your toe, the skin near the injury may looked bruised or temporarily change color. You’ll also have difficulty putting any weight on your toe. Walking, or even just standing, can be painful. A bad break can also dislocate the toe, which can cause it to rest at an unnatural angle.

A sprained toe shouldn’t look dislocated. It will still swell, but will likely have less bruising. A sprained toe may be painful for several days, but should then begin to improve.

One other key difference between a break and a sprain is the location of the pain. Usually a break will hurt right where the bone has fractured. With a sprain, the pain may be felt in a more general area around the toe.

The only way to tell for sure if the injury is a break or a sprain is to see your doctor. They can examine your toe and determine the type of injury.

The two most common causes of a broken toe are stubbing it into something hard or having something heavy land on it. Going barefoot is a major risk factor, especially if you’re walking in the dark or in an unfamiliar environment.

If you carry heavy objects without proper foot protection, such as thick boots, you’re also at a higher risk for a broken toe.

A broken toe can usually be diagnosed with the use of an X-ray. If the pain and discoloration don’t ease up after a few days, you should definitely see your doctor.

A broken toe that doesn’t heal properly could lead to osteoarthritis, a painful condition that causes chronic pain in one or more joints.

Your doctor will examine your toe and ask for your medical history. Tell your doctor as many details as you can about the injury and your symptoms. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice a loss of feeling or tingling in your toe. This could be a sign of nerve damage.

If there’s a chance the toe is broken, your doctor will likely want to get one or more X-rays of the injured toe. Getting images from different angles is important to understand the extent of the break.

Information from the X-ray will also help your doctor decide whether surgery is necessary.

With most cases of a broken toe, there’s little your doctor can do. It’s mostly up to you to rest your toe and keep it stable.

Even before you know whether your toe is broken, you should ice the injured toe and keep it elevated. You may also take over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).

If you have surgery to repair the toe, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicines.

Splinting your toe

Typical treatment for a broken toe is called “buddy taping.” This involves taking the broken toe and carefully securing it to the toe next to it with medical tape. Usually, a gauze pad is placed between the toes to prevent skin irritation.

The non-broken toe is basically used as a splint to help keep the broken toe from moving too much. By taping the broken toe to its neighbor, you give the injured toe the support it needs to begin healing.

Surgery and additional treatment options

More serious breaks may require additional treatment. If you have bone fragments in the toe that need to heal, taping may not be enough.

You may be advised to wear a walking cast. This helps keep the injured toe stable while also giving your foot enough support to reduce some of the pain you may have while walking.

In very serious cases, surgery may be necessary to reset the broken bone or bones. A surgeon can sometimes put a pin or a screw into the bone to help it heal properly. These pieces of hardware will remain in the toe permanently.

Your toe is likely to be tender and swollen, even after a few weeks. You’ll likely need to avoid running, playing sports, or walking long distances for one to two months after your injury.

Recovery time can be longer if the break is in one of the metatarsals. The metatarsals are the longer bones in the foot that connect to the phalanges, which are the smaller bones in the toes.

Your doctor can give you a good estimate of recovery time based on the severity and location of your injury. A mild fracture, for example, should heal faster than a more severe break.

With a walking cast, you should be able to walk and resume most non-strenuous activities within a week or two after injuring your toe. The pain should diminish gradually if the bone is healing properly.

If you feel any pain in your broken toe, stop the activity that’s causing the pain and tell your doctor.

The key to a good outcome is following through on your doctor’s advice. Learn how to tape your toe properly so you can change the tape regularly.

Carefully try to put more pressure on your broken toe each day to see how it’s recovering. Take any slight improvements in pain and discomfort as signs that your injury is healing.

Here are some things you can do to improve your recovery.


You may temporarily need a bigger or wider shoe to accommodate your swollen foot. Consider getting a shoe with a hard sole and a lightweight top that will put less pressure on the injured toe, but still provide plenty of support.

Velcro fasteners that you can easily adjust can provide additional comfort.

Ice and elevation

Continue to ice and elevate your foot if your doctor recommends it. Wrap the ice in a cloth so that it doesn’t come into direct contact with your skin.

Take it slow

Ease back into your activities, but listen to your body. If you sense that you’re putting too much weight or stress on the toe, back off. It’s better to have a longer recovery and avoid any painful setbacks than to rush back into your activities too quickly.

Broken toe – self-care: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Each toe is made up of 2 or 3 small bones. These bones are small and fragile. They can break after you stub your toe or drop something heavy on it.

Broken toes are a common injury. The fracture is most often treated without surgery and can be taken care of at home.

Severe injuries include:

  • Breaks that cause the toe to be crooked
  • Breaks that cause an open wound
  • Injuries that involve the big toe

If you have a severe injury, you should seek medical help.

Injuries that involve the big toe may need a cast or splint to heal. In rare cases, tiny pieces of bone can break off and keep the bone from healing properly. In this case, you may need surgery.

Symptoms of a broken toe include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising that can last up to 2 weeks
  • Stiffness

If your toe is crooked after the injury, the bone may be out of place and may need to be straightened in order to heal properly. This may be done either with or without surgery.

Most broken toes will heal on their own with proper care at home. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for complete healing. Most pain and swelling will go away within a few days to a week.

If something was dropped on the toe, the area under the toenail can bruise. This will go away in time with nail growth. If there is substantial blood under the nail, it may be removed to reduce pain and potentially prevent the loss of the nail.

For the first few days after your injury:

  • Rest. Stop doing any physical activity that causes pain, and keep your foot immobile whenever possible.
  • For the first 24 hours, ice your toe for 20 minutes every hour you are awake, then 2 to 3 times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Keep your foot raised to help keep swelling down.
  • Take pain medicine if necessary.

For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).

  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children.

You may also take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you have liver disease, talk with your provider before using this medicine.

Do not take more than the amount recommended on the medicine bottle or by your provider.

Your provider may prescribe a stronger medicine if needed.

To take care of your injury at home:

  • Buddy taping. Wrap tape around the injured toe and the toe next to it. This helps keep your toe stable. Place a small wad of cotton between your toes to prevent tissues from becoming too moist. Change the cotton daily.
  • Footwear. It may be painful to wear a regular shoe. In this case, your doctor can provide a stiff-bottomed shoe. This will protect your toe and make room for swelling. Once swelling has gone down, wear a solid, stable shoe to protect your toe.

Slowly increase the amount of walking you do each day. You can return to normal activity once the swelling has gone down, and you can wear a stable and protective shoe.

There may be some soreness and stiffness when you walk. This will go away once the muscles in your toe begin to stretch and strengthen.

Ice your toe after activity if there is any pain.

More severe injuries that require casting, reduction, or surgery will take time to heal, possibly 6 to 8 weeks.

Follow up with your provider 1 to 2 weeks after your injury. If the injury is severe, your provider may want to see you more than once. X-rays may be taken.

Call your provider if you have any of the following:

  • Sudden numbness or tingling
  • A sudden increase in pain or swelling
  • An open wound or bleeding
  • Fever or chills
  • Healing that is slower than expected
  • Red streaks on the toe or foot
  • Toes that appear more crooked or bent

Fractured toe – self-care; Broken bone – toe – self-care; Fracture – toe – self-care; Fracture phalanx – toe

Alkhamisi A. Toe fractures. In: Eiff MP, Hatch RL, Higgins MK, eds. Fracture Management for Primary Care and Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 16.

Rose NGW, Green TJ. Ankle and foot. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 49.

Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Fracture of the big toe – how to determine the main symptoms and first aid

Fracture of the big toe is a fairly common injury that a person can get while playing sports, at work, walking and even at home. Pain sensations differ from the severity of the injury and its size. For example, if we are talking about a fracture of only one nail phalanx, then it is quite easy to overlook it or even confuse it with an ordinary bruise. And precisely because of the latter, a slight fracture can lead to quite serious consequences and improper fusion. We strongly recommend that, after a strong blow or injury, you can contact a medical center to rule out a fracture or start its immediate treatment.

Signs of a broken toe

Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, symptoms can vary greatly. With a crack in the phalanx, pain is practically not felt, and the victim may not even be aware of the problem, very often the bone grows without plaster and fixation. When the first phalanx of the finger is fractured, severe, aching pain is felt.

When the toes are fractured, the general symptoms are as follows:\

  • a hematoma forms at the fracture site;
  • possible hemorrhage;
  • the skin turns dark blue, the skin around the damaged bone swells;
  • severe and sharp pain on any attempt to touch or move a finger;
  • unnatural mobility of the injured finger;
  • inability to lean on the affected leg;
  • immobility or partially limited movement of the finger;
  • fever and redness at the site of localization;
  • with a fragmental fracture, shortening of the finger is possible;
  • with an open fracture, a wound with bone fragments;
  • marked twitching or throbbing of the finger.

On physical examination, crunching of bone fragments is observed if a short time has passed since the injury. The crunch is the result of broken bones rubbing against each other. Finger fractures are combined with damage to the ligamentous apparatus, sprain and dislocation of the phalangeal joints.

How to distinguish a possible bruise from a fracture

A bruise or a fracture can be determined by several parameters:

  • Features of the pain syndrome.
  • Finger movement.
  • Skin color at the site of swelling (contusion).
  • Presence of hemorrhage.
  • Phalanx shape.

The clinical picture of a finger injury is as follows:

  • The victim has a sharp pain, which begins to subside with time. The nature of the pain is “aching”. Using a cold compress can speed up the process of relieving pain symptoms.
  • When bruised, the finger is not deformed. Immediately after the bruise, all movements are accompanied by sharp pain (pulsation is possible), as the pain subsides, the motor activity of the finger is gradually restored.
  • Depending on the nature of the bruise, the color of the skin at the site of injury may be dark red, pink, pale pink. Puffiness may appear immediately, after a day or not at all. The blood at the site of the bruise spreads diffusely (scattered), a bruise may appear.

How to diagnose a finger fracture

  • On palpation, the pain increases sharply and does not go away for a long time (an hour or two).
  • With a fracture, there is a sharp pain that can radiate to the nearest parts of the foot. Deformation of the phalanx, unnatural position of the finger. Bloating and strong (acute) throbbing at the fracture site.
  • With a fracture, the victim cannot move the injured finger. At any attempt to stand on a sore leg, the patient experiences acute pain. To relieve pain symptoms, the affected finger is fixed in one position.
  • Hemorrhages form under the nail, hematoma and edema appear, the skin becomes cyanotic.

First aid for a broken finger

If you have symptoms that indicate a possible fracture, there is no need to panic in the first place. First of all, you should call an emergency ambulance. Prior to the arrival of a physician, all the efforts of the victim should be aimed at stopping the bleeding (with an open fracture), fixing the limb and anesthesia of the injury site. To prevent negative consequences, the following rules must be observed:

  • even in the absence of severe symptoms, you should not refuse to consult your doctor;
  • limb fixation is one of the main stages of effective treatment;
  • a broken finger must not touch foreign objects;
  • fractures without displacement may not be fixed until the ambulance arrives;
  • pain syndrome can be removed with the help of nimesil, analgin and ibuprofen;
  • cold compress is another effective way to relieve pain.

It is important to note that when applying an ice pack, keep the compress for no more than 10 minutes to prevent possible frostbite. Repeated procedure is possible after a 3-4 minute break. Even if a fracture is suspected, experts recommend immediately contacting a specialized medical institution for qualified help.

Finger fracture treatment methods

Name Description
Closed reduction This method is used for a closed fracture and no displacement. Antiseptic agents are applied to the injured finger, after which the doctor returns the finger to its normal position by mechanical action (pulling). A significant disadvantage of this method is the need to repeat this procedure.
Skeletal traction This method is used for a displaced fracture. This procedure requires a metal wire, which is passed through the finger with a small load, which allows the bones to be in a normal position. At the end of the procedure, the doctor performs immobilization.
Open methods The surgeon performs osteosynthesis. Fixes bone fragments with special metal elements. Broken parts of the bone are connected, its correct shape is restored. Open reposition is performed for all open and multi-comminuted closed fractures. The operation also allows you to eliminate the complications that arose during the treatment.
Surgical intervention Surgery is indicated for patients who have an open fracture of the big toe or in case of crushing of the phalanx. During surgery, the doctor restores the physiological location of the finger. For fixation of fragments, knitting needles, plates, screws are used.

What should I do if I break my toe? – useful articles from specialists

Any fracture can have unpleasant consequences, even if we are talking about a broken toe. Knowing what to do when you break your toe can help you navigate a difficult situation. Read our first aid tips – and you will have a clear idea of ​​​​how to diagnose a fracture (let’s talk about its characteristic signs and symptoms), how it can be cured.

A broken toe requires immediate medical attention. Its treatment is long and complex. If you want to avoid a number of inconveniences (for example, difficulty in movement due to improperly fused bone), you need to learn how to determine the presence of a fracture in a timely manner. Improper treatment can cause loss of the former shape and flexibility of the limb. Therefore, at the first suspicion of a fracture, it makes sense to consult a doctor.

Broken toe: causes and symptoms

Most often, the phalanges of the fingers are injured when an object that is too heavy falls, due to a strong blow or accidental twisting of the leg. In some cases, fractures occur due to diseases such as osteomyelitis (bone infection), diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis.

Most fractures are stressful: a microcrack occurs that does not cause a rupture of the skin or displacement of the bones. Less commonly, comminuted fractures occur: the bone breaks in several places. Diagnosing an open fracture is easy: you will see the bones sticking out. Proper assessment of the severity of the injury allows the appropriate treatment to be determined.

The main symptoms of a broken toe include:

  • visible swelling;
  • unbearable pain;
  • deformity of the phalanx;
  • bruising, bruising;
  • crunching when trying to move the leg;
  • tingling, cooling, numbness;
  • open wound with bleeding.

Having broken the thumb, a person cannot fully walk, because it is this finger that accounts for most of the body weight. A broken little finger does not make a person unable to walk. But in both cases, the pain will be palpable.

What complications can occur after a broken toe?

Do not think that a finger phalanx injury is a trifle. A number of problems arise after an injury. In the presence of a hematoma, removal of the nail is possible. In case of improper tissue fusion, surgical intervention is required: an osteotomy is performed to eliminate the deformation of the joints and bones.

In addition, there is a risk of infection if there is inflamed skin near a broken finger. The presence of redness, swelling, pus, as well as the softness of the tissues and fever are evidence of infection. In this case, antibiotics are indispensable.

In order to avoid the consequences of a fracture, you need to seek medical help from qualified specialists. Diagnosis and treatment of injured limbs is carried out not only by chiropractors and orthopedists, but also by osteopaths and physiotherapists. Specialists make diagnoses after examination and examination of x-rays. In some cases, computed tomography, MRI, ultrasound, bone scans are required.

Features of the treatment of broken toes

If we are talking about a stress fracture, then the first thing you will need to do is stop any activity, apply an ice compress to the damaged area (it will reduce inflammation and stop internal bleeding). Ice should be applied for 10-12 minutes every hour. Experts recommend keeping the injured limb elevated, it can be put on a roller from a blanket or pillow. Be sure to bandage the broken finger, connecting it to the adjacent one. For this, a regular medical waterproof bandage is suitable. The family doctor will recommend anti-inflammatory drugs. The next 5-6 days you will have to walk in shoes with a free toe.

With an open fracture, the help of an orthopedic surgeon is required. He will reduce the broken finger and apply a splint. You will need to use crutches for about 2 weeks. For walks, you will need to purchase special orthopedic shoes. Anyone who wants to quickly recover from a fracture should eat foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, magnesium, calcium, and boron.

Important point! Doctors almost always recommend a tetanus shot if you have an open wound.

Practice shows that the healing of broken fingers takes about 1.5 months. If during this period the problem is not solved, the doctor will take new x-rays and adjust the treatment.