Definition

A toe fracture is a break in a toe bone. The bones in the toes are called phalanges.

The Phalanges of the Foot

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Causes

A toe fracture is caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma can result from:

  • Dropping something on your toe
  • Stubbing your toe
  • Falling down
  • Direct blow to the toe

Risk Factors

These risk factors increase your chance of developing a toe fracture. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to a toe fracture. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Stiffness in the injured area
  • Inability to move toe
  • Bruising in injured area
  • Numbness or tingling in the toes
  • Visible deformity in the toe area
  • Difficulty walking (sometimes)

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, level of physical activity, how the injury occurred, and will examine the injured area. Your doctor may take an x-ray of the foot, but this is not always needed.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on how serious the injury. Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with the toe joint, such as misalignment and immobility. Treatment involves:

  • Putting the pieces of the bone together, which may require anesthesia and/or surgery
  • Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself

Realigning the Bones

In many toe fractures, the bone is broken but the two pieces are in proper position. If the bones are out of position, the doctor will put the bones back into place. This is usually done without surgery. However, if your fracture is severe, you may need pins or screws to hold the bones in place. Each of these will require surgery. Sometimes, the joint of the toe is injured in the fracture, and severe joint injury may require surgery. Toe fractures in children may involve the growth plates. This may require that a specialist examine the fracture. Surgery is also possible. Once the bones are realigned, they need to be held in place while healing. The fractured toe may be taped to the toe next to it, or you may need a walking cast with a toe plate.

Medication

The following drugs may help reduce inflammation and pain:

If you have a fracture, check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Self-care

  • Rest—Do not participate in sports or activities until your toe is fully healed.
  • Ice—Apply ice or a cold pack to your toe for 15-20 minutes, four times a day for several days. This reduces pain and swelling. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply ice directly to your skin.
  • Elevation—Keep the injured foot raised above the level of your heart for 48 hours (such as on a pillow). This will drain fluid and reduce swelling.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting a toe fracture, take the following steps: