Toe fractures are a common injury. The foot is made up of 28 bones, making it a prime candidate for fraction. The location of the toes makes them intolerable to injury. Jamming your toe or dropping a heavy object on them is typically how a toe fraction occurs. However, repetitive stress to the toe can cause what is known as a stress fracture.

Symptoms of a broken toe

The symptoms of a broken toe are pain, swelling, stiffness and limited mobility. Most people find it very difficult to walk after breaking their toe – especially the big toe. The big toe bears a lot of the body's weight, making it very hard to be mobile. Breaking a little toe is also painful, but does not affect the ability to walk nearly as much as breaking the big toe.

Other symptoms that can occur include bruising and cuts to the skin as well as deformities to the affected toe. Other complications can come if the foot goes untreated including infection.

Possible complications from a broken toe

Nail injury – it is common for blood to build up under the nail especially if something was dropped in the toe. If the hematoma is large it may need to be drained by a doctor. If it is very large and painful it may be necessary to remove the entire nail.

Composite fracture – a compound fracture occurs when the bone sticks out through the skin. A compound fraction typically requires emergency surgery.

Arthritis – breaking a bone can lead to arthritis in the affected area causing pain and stiffness.

Nonunion or malunion – this occurs when the bone does not completely heal (nonunion) or does not heal properly (malunion). In rare instances it may be necessary to have corrective surgery.

When to call a doctor

It is important to notify a doctor if you suspect a broken toe. A doctor can quickly diagnose a break through x-ray, MRI or even visual diagnosis. Waiting to seek medical attention may result in more serious health consequences.

While waiting for medical treatment it is important to rest by avoiding bearing weight on the affected area. It is also important to ice the toe for 15-20 minutes every couple of hours. Elevating the foot will also help mitigate pain and swelling. Propping the foot up on pillows or reclining in a lounge chair is helpful.

Treatment of a Broken Toe

By and large, most broken toes are treated non-operatively. “Buddy taping” the broken toe to the non-broken toe next to it may make it more comfortable while healing. Also, most toe fractures do not break through the skin so can be treated without surgery in a cast shoe with weight bearing as tolerated.

In an athlete with a fracture that is acute or a stress fracture, surgery may help to get the person back to athletics faster. It should heal either way, but time is money in athletics so getting back on the field faster is desired, despite the small surgical risks.