Broken Toe

Topic Overview

What causes a toe to break (fracture), and what are the symptoms?

You may break one of your toes by stubbing it, dropping something on it, or bending it. A hairline crack (stress fracture) may occur after a sudden increase in activity, such as increased running or walking.

Symptoms of a broken toe may include:

  • A snap or pop at the time of the injury.
  • Pain that is worse when the toe is moved or touched.
  • Swelling and bruising.
  • Possible deformity (not just swelling), such as a toe pointing in the wrong direction or that is twisted out of normal position. A dislocated toe can also look deformed.
  • Decreased movement or movement that causes pain.

How is a broken toe diagnosed?

A broken toe is diagnosed through a physical examination. Your health professional will look for swelling, purple or black and blue spots, and tenderness. An X-ray may be needed to determine whether the toe is broken or dislocated.

How is it treated?

Home care after breaking a toe includes applying ice, elevating the foot, and rest. Medical treatment for a broken toe depends on which toe is broken, where in the toe the break is, and the severity of the break. If you do not have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, your toe can be "buddy-taped" to your uninjured toe next to it. Protect the skin by putting some soft padding, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. Your injured toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal. If your injured toe hurts more after buddy taping it, remove the tape.

In rare cases, other treatment may be needed, including:

  • Protecting the toe from additional injury. This may include using splints to stabilize the toe, a short leg cast, or a brace.
  • Surgery, if the break is severe.

Medical treatment is needed more often for a broken big toe than for the other toes. An untreated fracture may cause long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised October 4, 2012

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