If anyone has ever told you that broken toes are untreatable and there’s no
reason to go to all the trouble of seeing a doctor, they are, frankly,
completely wrong. It’s an excellent idea to consult your podiatrist
whenever you injure your foot, particularly if you suspect a break. Many
fractures of the toe can be treated. Depending on the severity of the
break, many may respond to conservative treatment, but some might be
serious enough to require surgery. Failing to get proper treatment may
result in improper healing of the fracture. Deformity in the toe or foot
might follow, making it more difficult to wear shoes comfortably, and
reducing the function of your foot. Improper healing may also cause
arthritis, or other long-term pain. In short, talk to your podiatrist. He
or she will be able to ascertain the most effective way to treat your
particular broken toe.
There are a couple of different kinds of breaks you should know about. One
type of break is a traumatic fracture, which results from a particular
event, such as stubbing your toe on that wretched enormous dresser in the
middle of the night, or possibly dropping an armful of bricks on your foot.
(Armfuls of feathers usually don’t do quite so much harm.) This type of
fracture may be displaced (the broken bone has shifted from its proper
position) or non-displaced (the bone is cracked, or even broken through,
but it hasn’t moved from where it’s supposed to be).
Another type of break is a stress fracture, which occurs when repeated
strain is put on a bone, resulting in small breaks that develop over time.
Athletes who precipitously increase their activity (particularly runners),
people with osteoporosis, and those who have abnormalities in the structure
of their feet may be most susceptible to this type of fracture.
The symptoms of traumatic and stress fractures are similar in some ways and
different in others. With both types, fractures tend to be painful in one
specific spot (aka pinpoint pain). (If you find that your pain is more
general, you may have experienced a sprain rather than a fracture. However,
it’s still a good idea to get the injury checked out, since sprains can be
serious business as well.) You may be able to walk around even after
breaking a toe, so don’t assume you haven’t broken it just because you’re
A few symptoms are a little different between the two types. For instance,
traumatic fractures tend to be associated with swelling and bruising, while
stress fractures usually exhibit swelling alone. You may also get
abnormalities in the shape of the toe or foot with traumatic fractures, and
sometimes people actually hear a snapping noise at the time the fracture
occurs. Pain from stress fractures may go away while you rest, then
reappear when you begin to use your foot again, or just after use.
Your podiatrist is darn good at figuring out what’s wrong with your foot.
When you go in with a suspected break in your toe, he or she will likely
perform a physical examination, checking the toe for tenderness and pain.
In order to make a more firm diagnosis, your podiatrist will probably order
X-rays of your toe, or may use other imaging technology.
When your podiatrist has confirmed that your toe is broken, he or she will
discuss treatment options with you. Treatments vary widely depending on the
type and severity of the break. For instance, with some very minor
fractures, it may only be necessary to remain off of the toe as much as
possible. This is often accompanied by padding the toe and wearing shoes
that don’t put any pressure on it (such as open-toe sandals).
The key to proper healing of breaks is immobilization. To achieve this,
your doctor may choose to splint the toe, sometimes by taping the broken
toe to an adjacent unbroken one. However, not all toe breaks work well with
this type of treatment, so don’t try to do it yourself (especially if you
decide to use that clear tape-let’s not be silly, folks). Your podiatrist
will also put padding in between the taped toes, so the skin won’t rub
together and create problems. Artificial splints may also be used.
If splints aren’t likely to do the trick, you may get a cast to keep your
toe from moving around during the healing process. (But hey-remember that
casts also double as a wonderful canvas for doodling and well-wishes in
felt pen.) Your podiatrist may also recommend a stiff-soled shoe,
(especially after surgery), which keeps the toe from moving about as you
If the bones are dislocated (i.e. out of place-these are the wanderers of
the broken bone world), your podiatrist may need to realign the bones (aka
reduction) in order to get the right pieces to knit together with the other
right pieces. Sometimes he or she will be able to manipulate the bones
without surgery. However, especially with particularly bad breaks, surgery
may be needed to keep all the pieces of your broken bones together as they
heal. Surgery often involves placing pins, screws or plates into the bone
fragments to keep everything nicely aligned. If you do get surgery on your
broken toe, it is vital that you follow your surgeon’s post-surgery
instructions. Not to get all horror-movie on you, but failing to do so may
result in extremely serious complications.
Whatever you do, be sure to treat your toes well. If you do, they’re more
likely to treat you well in return.
Call 719-543-2476 today to schedule your appointment!