Broken Toe

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What is a broken toe?

A broken toe is a condition characterized by a fracture of one of the bones in your toes. A broken toe may result from a variety of injuries, including falls, accidents, or dropping an object on your toe. Osteoporosis, which is a thinning and weakening of the bones, is a further cause of broken toes.

In most cases, the pain of an injury will signal that you may have broken your toe. In severe fractures, the bone may be visible and protruding through the skin or your toe may look deformed. Symptoms of broken toe usually are localized to the location of the fracture. The most common symptoms of a broken toe are pain and swelling. You may have difficulty standing or walking.

For toe 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. Unless the toe fracture is associated with other injuries or severe deformity, surgical procedures are rarely necessary.

Although life-threatening complications of a broken toe are rare, seek immediate medical care (call 911) for injuries that involve profuse bleeding or severe tissue damage.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for a broken toe but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

What are the symptoms of a broken toe?

Symptoms of broken toe usually are localized to the toe and typically include pain and swelling.

Common symptoms of broken toe

Symptoms of broken toe likely will develop soon after the bone fracture occurs. Their severity will depend on the severity of the fracture. Symptoms of broken toe include:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Burning feeling
  • Difficulty moving the toe
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Toe pain and swelling
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling or other unusual sensations

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, a broken toe can be a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Absent lower extremity pulses
  • Bone protruding from skin
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • Extensive bleeding
  • Possible injuries to other parts of the body

What causes a broken toe?

A broken toe may result from a variety of injuries. Your toe may be broken during a fall, an occupational injury, a sporting activity, or a traffic accident. Dropping an object on your toe may also cause the bones in your toe to fracture. Osteoporosis, a thinning and weakening of the bones, is another cause of broken toes. 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.

What are the risk factors for a broken toe?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing a broken toe. Not all people with risk factors will get a broken toe. Risk factors for a broken toe include:

  • Advanced age
  • Improper footwear
  • Osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones)
  • Young age

How is a broken toe treated?

Treatment for a broken toe begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine whether you have a broken toe, your health care provider may take an X-ray. The X-ray will visualize the bones in your toes and show whether a fracture occurred and where it is.

Most toe fractures are minor and may be managed through a home care plan recommended by your heath care provider. Home care for a fracture may include icing the toe, taking over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and swelling, and limiting activity.

If your fracture caused your bones to be out of place or is associated with more extensive fractures or severe deformity, 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 splint or other device to hold the toe 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.

What are the potential complications of a broken toe?

Complications of an untreated broken toe 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 toe include:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 5
  1. Foot injuries and disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/footinjuriesanddisorders.html.
  2. Fractures: an overview. AAOS: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00139.
  3. Eiff MP, Hatch RL, Calmbach W (eds.) Fracture Management for Primary Care, (2nd Ed) Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 2002.
  4. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
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