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What causes a broken toe?
You may break (fracture) one of your toes by stubbing it, dropping something on it, or bending it. A hairline crack (stress fracture) may occur after a sudden increase in activity, such as increased running or walking.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a broken toe may include:
- A snap or pop at the time of the injury.
- Pain that is worse when the toe is moved or touched.
- Swelling and bruising.
- Possible deformity (not just swelling), such as a toe pointing in the wrong direction or that is twisted out of normal position. A dislocated toe can also look deformed.
- Decreased movement or movement that causes pain.
How is it diagnosed?
A broken toe is diagnosed through a physical examination. Your health professional will look for swelling, purple or black and blue spots, and tenderness. An X-ray may be needed to determine whether the toe is broken or dislocated.
How is a broken toe treated?
Home care after breaking a toe includes applying ice, elevating the foot, and rest. Medical treatment for a broken toe depends on which toe is broken, where in the toe the break is, and the severity of the break. If you do not have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, your toe can be "buddy-taped" to your uninjured toe next to it. Protect the skin by putting some soft padding, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. Your injured toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal. If your injured toe hurts more after buddy taping it, remove the tape.
In rare cases, other treatment may be needed, including:
- Protecting the toe from additional injury. This may include using splints to stabilize the toe, a short leg cast, or a brace.
- Surgery, if the break is severe.
Medical treatment is needed more often for a broken big toe than for the other toes. An untreated fracture may cause long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.
How can you care for your broken toe?
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If your toe is taped to the toe next to it, your doctor has shown you how to change the tape. Protect the skin by putting something soft, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. Never tape the toes together skin-to-skin. Your broken toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal.
- Rest and protect your toe. Do not walk on it until you can do so without too much pain. If the doctor has told you to use crutches, use them as instructed.
- Put ice or a cold pack on your toe for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
- Prop up your foot on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
- Make sure you go to your follow-up appointments. Your doctor will need to check that your toe is healing right.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine
Gavin W.G. Chalmers DPM - Podiatry and Podiatric Surgery
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