Talking With Your Doctor About Foot Fractures and Dislocations
Your foot contains almost one-fourth of all the bones in your body. Foot fractures and dislocations can be simple or complex. Simple ones involve just one bone or joint, while complex ones affect multiple bones and joints.
Your foot provides support and movement for your whole body. So stress fractures can also be a problem in the foot. Stress fractures are small cracks in a bone. In the foot, they result from overuse and repeated high-impact activities.
Symptoms and disability vary depending on the specific location of the foot fracture or dislocation. Symptoms can include:
Your doctor can customize your treatment plan to your specific foot fracture or dislocation. But individualized care starts with a conversation. Here are topics to bring up with your doctor that will help him or her decide the best course of treatment—for you.
Your doctor will want to know how you injured yourself. For example, did you twist your foot when you fell? And how far did you fall? Were other body parts involved in the fall? It can tell your doctor a lot about what type of injury you have.
Your doctor will also want to know about your symptoms. Try to describe them in detail. Expect these types of questions:
- Does the pain get worse with standing and activity?
- Does the pain go away or improve with rest?
- Did the pain start right after the injury or gradually?
- Have you noticed changes in the way you walk, such as limping or feeling unstable?
After examining your foot, your doctor will likely order imaging tests. An X-ray is the most common test, but your doctor may also order a CT (computed tomography) scan or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). MRIs can be useful to find stress fractures or soft tissue damage.
Fortunately, many foot fractures heal without surgery. Surgery may be necessary if a bone is out of place (dislocated) or part of a bone has broken off. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Applying ice or heat to the foot as directed
- Not bearing weight on the foot
- Resting the foot
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers
- Wearing a cast or boot
Ask your doctor why he or she thinks a certain treatment is right for you, and what other options might be available if the treatment doesn’t help. Ask how long it may take for symptoms to subside and when you can return to activities. Your doctor may recommend another set of X-rays as you heal. Having a plan may help you feel better.
Some foot fractures require rehabilitation to get you back on your feet. Others simply need time. Either way, ask your doctor or physical therapist what you can expect after recovery. In some cases, foot function and gait may never fully return to pre-injury levels. And chronic conditions, such as arthritis, can develop after a foot fracture or dislocation. Knowing what to expect may help you set realistic long-term expectations.
If you had a stress fracture, you need to learn ways to avoid the problem in the future. You may need to alternate days of activity with inactivity or high-impact with low-impact activities. Your doctor or physical therapist may also recommend cross-training to avoid repeated stress from the same activity.