What is a broken foot?
A broken foot is a condition characterized by a fracture of one of the 26 bones in your foot. The fracture may occur in your toes, ankle, heel or midfoot. A broken foot may result from a variety of injuries, including falls, accidents, or dropping an object on your foot. Osteoporosis, which is a thinning and weakening of the bones, is an additional cause of broken feet.
In most cases, you will know immediately when you break your foot. You may hear a snap or crack and likely will feel pain. In severe fractures, the bone may be visible and protruding through the skin or your foot may look deformed. Symptoms of broken foot usually are localized to the location of the fracture. The most common symptoms of a broken foot are pain and swelling. It is also likely that you will have difficulty standing or walking.
Anytime an injury results in a broken bone, it is important to make sure that no other injuries occurred elsewhere. For example, the same fall that led to a broken foot may also have given the person a concussion. Conversely, a seizure may have induced the fall that caused the foot fracture.
Treatment will vary substantially depending on the severity and location of your fracture. For minor fractures, your health care provider may recommend a home care plan, including icing the fracture, taking over-the counter medications to reduce pain and swelling, and limiting activity. More severe fractures may require surgery and casting to set the fracture and stabilize it during healing.
Although life-threatening complications of a broken foot are rare, seek immediate medical care (call 911) for injuries that involve profuse bleeding or severe tissue damage. All serious injuries, including foot injuries, should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for a broken foot but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.
What are the symptoms of a broken foot?
Symptoms of broken foot usually are localized to the location of the fracture and typically include pain and swelling.
Common symptoms of broken foot
Symptoms of broken foot will likely develop soon after the bone fracture occurs. Their severity will depend on the severity of the fracture. Symptoms of broken foot include:
- Bleeding or bruising
- Burning feeling
- Difficulty moving the foot, ankle or toes
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Foot pain and swelling
- Joint pain
- Tingling or other unusual sensations
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, a broken foot can be a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:
- Bone protruding from skin
- Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
- Extensive bleeding
- Unable to feel pulses in the lower extremity pulses
What causes a broken foot?
A broken foot may result from a variety of injuries. Your foot may be broken during a fall, an occupational injury, a sporting activity, or a traffic accident. Dropping an object on your foot may also cause the bones in your foot to fracture. Osteoporosis, a thinning and weakening of the bones, is another cause of broken feet. If you have osteoporosis, your fragile bones may break during activities that normally would do no harm. Stress fractures, minor fractures of the bone, may arise if you participate in intense activity, due to overuse.
A number of factors increase the risk of developing a broken foot. Not all people with risk factors will get a broken foot. Risk factors for a broken foot include:
- Advanced age
- Improper footwear
- Osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones)
- Young age
- How is a broken foot treated?
Treatment for a broken foot begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine whether you have a broken foot, your health care provider will likely take an X-ray and perform a physical exam. The X-ray will visualize the bones in your feet and show whether a fracture occurred and where it is.
Treatment for a broken foot will vary substantially depending on the bone that is injured, the severity of the fracture, and the underlying cause. Minor fractures may be managed through a home care plan recommended by your heath care provider. Home care for a fracture may include icing the foot, taking over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and swelling, and limiting activity.
If your fracture caused your bones to be out of place, your heath care provider may need to set, or “reduce,” the fracture by aligning the bone fragments. In some cases, setting the fracture can be performed in the clinic, but severe fractures may require surgery. To ensure proper healing, you may need to wear a cast, splint, or other device to hold the foot in the correct position. Your heath care provider will let you know whether you can put weight on the foot and whether you need to use crutches when walking.
Complications of an untreated or poorly reduced broken foot can be serious. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of broken foot include: