Broken toe overview
- Often, a broken toe is caused by injury or trauma. Repetitive movements over a prolonged period can result in a hairline or stress fracture.
- Broken toe symptoms include having difficulty walking, a toe being deformed in some way, bruising on the toe or foot, stiffness, swelling and pain.
- Complications can occur with broken toe injuries including arthritis, deformity of the toe, infection, compound fracture and nail injury.
- Seek broken toe NHS treatment if your toe has suffered an open fracture, if it is bleeding, or has an odd sensation such as pins and needles or numbness. If the toe is pointing in the wrong direction, or the area of the injury is blue or grey in colour.
- Diagnosis of a broken toe is done via a combination of x-ray and medical examination.
- For a broken toe what to do to manage the pain yourself is keep it raises, apply an ice pack, and stay off it.
- For a severe injury such as a broken big toe joint the toe may need to be put back in place. Complex fractures may require surgery to do this.
- Over-the-counter painkillers are a good broken toe treatment for managing pain.
- Buddy taping is a good treatment for toe fractures. For example, taping a broken 4th toe to a healthy 3rd
- Broken pinky toe healing time as well as the rest of the toes, is on average six weeks.
What is a broken toe?
Toes are a commonly injured part of the foot. Each toe has 26 bones, and these bones are called phalanges. 14 of these are at the front or tip of the toe, and 5 of them, the metatarsals are at the back of the toe. Trauma such as a stubbed pinky toe is the most common reason for a fractured toe to occur.
What are the symptoms of a broken toe?
To answer the question is my toe broken? You need to know the symptoms, which are:
- There will be difficulty in walking, especially if you have broken your big toe, which is crucial to balance. There will be pain, stiffness and swelling. To answer can you move a broken toe? Depends the break. A broken pinky might be much less painful and will be able to move and bend when you walk with little discomfort.
- Other broken toe symptoms include:
- Bruising on the toe
- Bruising of the skin around the toe.
- A toe bent out of shape due to a displaced bone.
- A fractured toe can cause other problems, these complications will either happen during recovery or further into the future, possibly many years later.
- People who have weak bones are likely to fracture a toe more often.
What are the causes of a broken toe?
Blunt trauma such as jamming or stubbing the toe, or having a heavy object falls on the toe are common causes of a toe fracture. Our toes, located at the front of our feet, are easily damaged during an accident involving the foot.
Stress and repetitive movements over a long period of time can result in a stress or hairline fracture of the toe. Certain people with medical conditions such as osteoporosis are at risk of developing hairline fractures simply through walking if they are wearing the wrong kind of footwear.
Do I need to call a doctor if I think I may have a broken toe?
The question, should I go to hospital for a broken toe? is that even if you can still walk on your injured toe, it is best to have it checked over anyway. Only a doctor can answer the question is my big toe broken? for you.
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should visit the hospital, a sprained big toe vs. broken big toe share many common symptoms so it is best to be sure:
- For a broken toe little in the way of symptoms may be visible. But for a complex or compound fracture, there may be an open wound, with blood loss, on or near the toe.
- Your toe may have an odd sensation such as pins and needles, numbness or cold.
- The skin may be discoloured, being grey or blue.
- Your toe might be pointing in the wrong direction, or it could be pointing straight up or straight down.
Do you need to know what can a doctor do for a broken toe? If you have any of these symptoms:
- If the pain of your broken toe keeps getting worse, and painkillers are no longer having an effect.
- There is an open wound, soreness or redness near the toe.
- There seems to be blood underneath the toenail, and the toenail has become very painful.
- The broken toe cast or splint that your doctor fitted has broken, or come off.
How is a broken toe diagnosed?
If you need to visit the hospital to get treatment for broken toe injuries the following procedure will usually be followed:
- The doctor will ask you questions about how the fractured toe occurred. If it is a broken toe in child then the parents will also answer these questions. The toe will be examined to see if there are any additional injuries.
- You will be given an x-ray so that the broken toe images they produce will let the doctor know how badly the bone is broken. However, for minor breaks such as a pinky toe, an x-ray might not be required, as the doctor will simply treat it.
- For hairline and stress fractures, an x-ray may not uncover them so an MRI will need to be used instead.
Which specialities of doctors treat a broken toe?
When you first report your broken toe, you will usually do so to either a Primary Care Provider (PCP) such as your GP or to a child specialist for injuries in young children. You will then be referred to an orthopedist, who specialises in musculoskeletal issues, or to a podiatrist, who specialises in foot issues.
If you have gone straight to the Accident & Emergency Department of your local hospital, you will be seen by a member of the general nursing staff, and then referred to a radiologist for x-ray or MRI tests. However, these will report directly to the doctor managing your case.
What is the treatment for a broken toe?
In many cases, a fractured toe can be cared for at home. Simply reducing the swelling and alleviating the pain are the only requirements. In these cases, the answer to the question how long does it take for a broken pinky toe to heal? Would be only as long as it is still causing pain as it is a very trivial injury. An ice pack, keeping the foot elevated and resting the foot is all that is needed to treat a minor injury.
For more severe injuries, the toe might need to be put back in place and a special cast or splint used to immobilise. You may also be given a special broken toe boot or broken toe shoe to help support the toe until it heals.
Can I care for a broken toe at home?
Many minor toe fractures such as a stubbed pinky toe can be cared for at home. If you suspect you have a more complex fracture, you should seek medical attention. If you are treating a broken toe what to do is the following:
- Keep the foot well rested. Avoid walking on it, and don’t take any form of exercise. You may be able to get around by using crutches or a special broken toe boot or broken toe shoe. If you are using some sort of walking aid, make sure not to put too much weight on the affected foot.
- You can take ice straight out of your freezer, and put it into a plastic bag. Take this bag of ice, and then place a towel over the skin of the fractured toe. Then apply the bag of ice to the towel. Don’t apply the bag of ice directly to the skin. Do this every couple of hours, for 15 to 20 minutes each time. You can use a bag of frozen vegetables instead of ice if you wish.
- Keep your foot well elevated, ideally well above the level of your heart. This will reduce the blood flow to your foot, and will help to reduce the swelling and also lessens the pain to some degree. The best way is to be in a reclining position and prop your foot up on a small stack of pillows or cushions.
What is the medical treatment for a broken toe?
Depending on where the toe fracture has occurred, and how severe it is, then the doctor may need to realign the bones of the toe before it can heal. Once this has been done, a splint or a broken toe cast will be applied.
It the answer to is my big toe broken? is yes, then you may well need surgical treatment to make sure the bones are pinned in place as they heal. The big toe carries much of our weight as we stand and walk, and it needs to be secured in place to begin healing.
If you have a compound or open wound fracture, a course of antibiotics might be described to prevent infection from setting in.
What medications can I take for a broken toe?
Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol are generally all that is needed to deal with the pain of a toe fracture. In severe cases, the hospital doctor may prescribe some stronger painkillers for the first few days of broken toe recovery time.
Buddy tape for a broken toe
- Buddy taping is the process of taping a broken toe to an adjacent toe for support. This is generally the treatment used for a minor injury it would not work for more severe injuries such as a broken big toe joint.
- A buddy taped toe can have the tape repaired or reapplied after bathing if the tape has become loose or come off entirely. Check with your doctor to make sure this is safe in your specific case.
How to buddy tape a broken toe
- Put a piece of gauze or cotton wool between the two toes which are going to be taped together to prevent chafing, and blisters from being caused.
- Using tape frugally, gently wind the tape loosely around the broken toe and the one adjacent to it.
- Don’t tape too tightly as this can stop blood flow, or cause the toe to swell up.
WARNING: If your doctor gives you advice on how best to buddy tape a broken toe then make sure to follow it.
Casting a broken toe
It is not usually a requirement for broken toe treatment to apply a cast. Buddy taping is usually enough. However, a doctor might suggest you use a special boot or shoe that will support your broken toe as it heals, especially if the toe is very swollen.
A plaster cast (or surgery) might be needed for severe toe features such as a broken big toe. If the fracture is in the joint, surgery might be required to realign the bones so they heal straight.
Reduction for a broken toe
- If the toe fracture has left the two ends of the bone displaced, or the fracture has resulted in the bones twisting apart from each other, a doctor will need to reduce it, this is the process of moving the bones to the right place so they can heal correctly.
- You may be given a local anaesthetic to make sure your toe is numb before the doctor performs the reduction.
- A splint or cast is applied after reduction, to prevent the bones from moving out of place again.
What are the possible complications of a broken toe?
Complication can occur with a broken toe injury such as a broken 4th toe. These complications will either occur fairly immediately in the course of short-term recovery or much later, sometimes many years in the future. Even the best treatment for broken toe can result in complications such as:
- Injured nail – when blood collects underneath the toenail and cannot escape, this is a subungual hematoma. A large subungual hematoma can be extremely painful, and they will need a doctor to drain the blood from them. This is generally done by drilling a small hole in the toenail to let the blood escape. In more serious cases, the entire toenail may need to be removed.
- Compound fracture – when the bone of the toe sticks out through the skin. This is quite rare, but it will need emergency surgery to correct.
- Arthritis – a long-term side effect of a broken toe, leaving the toe joints stiff and painful.
- Nonunion – when the two parts of broken bone fail to knit together because they were too far apart.
- Malunion – when the two parts of the bone knit back together crookedly, leading to a deformed toe.
How Long Does It Take For A Broken Toe To Heal?
To find out about broken pinky toe healing time you should take to your doctor so that they can evaluate the healing, and make sure all is OK. If any complications occur before your next appointment, you should go to the A&E department of your local hospital.
Most broken toe injuries heal within six weeks. A further x-ray may be needed to check if your fracture is healing correctly. Your doctor will evaluate the healing, and let you know when he feels you are coming to the time to have your cast removed.
Simple fractures, almost always heal with no complications of ongoing health problems. Compound and complex fractures may result in the toe losing flexibility, and one or more of the long-term side effects of a broken toe setting in, such as arthritis.