I often hear this phrase regarding broken toes. Below, you'll learn 5 ways to treat a toe fracture.
Of the 26 bones in the foot, 14 are toe bones (phalanges). Fractures of the toes are common and require evaluation by a specialist. A foot and ankle surgeon should be seen for proper diagnosis and treatment, even if initial treatment has been received in an emergency room.
What Is a Fracture?
A fracture is a break in the bone. Fractures can be divided into two categories: traumatic fractures and stress fractures.
Traumatic fractures (also called acute fractures) are caused by a direct blow or impact, such as seriously stubbing your toe. Traumatic fractures can be displaced or non-displaced. If the fracture is displaced, the bone is broken in such a way that it has changed in position (dislocated).
Signs and symptoms of a traumatic fracture include:
• You may hear a sound at the time of the break.
• “Pinpoint pain” (pain at the place of impact) at the time the fracture occurs and perhaps for a few hours later, but often the pain goes away after several hours.
• Crooked or abnormal appearance of the toe.
• Bruising and swelling the next day.
• It is not true that “if you can walk on it, it’s not broken.” Evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is always recommended.
Consequences of Improper Treatment
Some people say that “the doctor can’t do anything for a broken bone in the foot.” This is usually not true. In fact, if a fractured toe or metatarsal bone is not treated correctly, serious complications may develop. For example:
• A deformity in the bony architecture which may limit the ability to move the foot or cause difficulty in fitting shoes
• Arthritis, which may be caused by a fracture in a joint (the juncture where two bones meet), or may be a result of angular deformities that develop when a displaced fracture is severe or hasn’t been properly corrected
• Chronic pain and deformity
• Non-union, or failure to heal, can lead to subsequent surgery or chronic pain.
Treatment of Toe Fractures
Fractures of the toe bones are almost always traumatic fractures. Treatment for traumatic fractures depends on the break itself and may include these options:
• Rest. Sometimes rest is all that is needed to treat a traumatic fracture of the toe.
• Splinting. The toe may be fitted with a splint to keep it in a fixed position.
• Rigid or stiff-soled shoe. Wearing a stiff-soled shoe protects the toe and helps keep it properly positioned.
• “Buddy taping” the fractured toe to another toe is sometimes appropriate, but in other cases it may be harmful.
• Surgery. If the break is badly displaced or if the joint is affected, surgery may be necessary. Surgery often involves the use of fixation devices, such as pins.
**Below are x-rays of a 5th toe fracture before and after closed reduction and conservative care**