You may have heard one of the many myths surrounding broken toes: that it will heal on its own, or that it’s okay as long as you can still walk on it. While reassuring, these common misconceptions are entirely false, and can have potentially severe consequences. Leaving a broken toe untreated can result in various complications, from misaligned bones and infection to arthritis and permanent foot pain. The thought of a doctor visit or hospital bill may make you cringe at first, but your feet will thank you for it in the long run.
Here is a look at the signs that your toe is broken, the dangers of avoiding treatment, and the steps you need to take to make sure your toe heals properly.
Signs Your Toe Is Broken
Even the smallest of accidents can result in toe trauma: dropping an object on the foot or stubbing your toe are common misfortunes that often lead to injury. Moreover, repetitive trauma to the toe over time can result in a stress fracture. While it’s tempting to try to tough it out, it’s important to listen to your pain to identify whether or not your toe is fractured.
It usually requires significant force to break a bone, although a little less so for the toes since their bones are so small. Regardless, the instance of fracture will be extremely painful. The toe will begin to swell as the fractured bone bleeds, resulting in bruising as the blood reaches the skin. You may also see blood pool beneath the toenail. In many cases an injury to the toe also involves damage to the toenail, which further increases your risk of infection should the toenail expose the tissue underneath. The fracture usually makes it extremely painful to walk, although this is not always the case. Even if you can still manage to walk on the toe, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a fracture.
Seek prompt medical attention if your toe shows signs of:
- Bruising, or blue or gray spots surrounding the site of trauma
- Trouble Walking
- Bleeding, especially beneath the toenail
- Coldness, numbness, or a tingling sensation indicative of nerve damage
Complications of an Untreated Broken Toe
Leaving a broken toe untreated can have serious and long term complications, including, but not limited to:
- Infection: If the injury has left an open wound, or especially if there is damage to the toenail, you are at risk of contracting an infection. Any exposure of a broken bone can lead to a bone infection (osteomyelitis), which is usually caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. Once diagnosed, your doctor may implement antibiotics straight into the bloodstream intravenously, or you may need to take medication for up to six weeks. If the infection is severe, your doctor may have to perform surgery to remove the infected bone.
- Compound fracture: A compound fracture is when a broken bone penetrates the skin, leaving the bone vulnerable to infection.
- Deformity: An untreated broken toe has a high likelihood of healing incompletely or improperly, potentially resulting in crookedness or deformity which may require corrective surgery down the road.
- Osteoarthritis: An improperly healed fracture can lead to a future of osteoarthritis as you age, generalized foot pain and discomfort, as well as an increased likelihood of further foot injury.
Toe Fracture Diagnosis and Treatment
Your podiatrist will order an X-ray to confirm a toe fracture. Once properly diagnosed, a mild toe fracture can be treated at home under the guidance of your trusted podiatrist. Home treatment essentials include elevating the foot above the level of the heart in order to decrease swelling, icing the injury for 20 minutes every 2 hours for the first 2 days, and of course rest and crutches to avoid bearing weight on the injury while you recover. OTC acetaminophen or ibuprofen should be sufficient for coping with the pain, although your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication if your fracture is severe.
If the fracture is minor or located in one of the small toes, your doctor may simply implement buddy taping, which involves taping the damaged toe to its neighbor for support while it heals. In cases where the toe fracture becomes rotated or displaced, the doctor will need to perform a reduction. This involves administering a shot of local anesthesia before realigning the toe back into its proper position.
Casting may be required in more severe fractures: where the big toe is injured, the joint is damaged, the injury involves various small toe fractures at once, or if a bone in the foot is injured in addition to the fractured toe. When wearing a cast, a sturdy shoe should be worn to provide maximum comfort and support. If all goes well, the fracture should take up to six weeks to heal.
Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Vikki and Dr. Connie
If you have suffered injury to your feet, toes, or ankles, don’t wait for complications to arise.Schedule a consultation with trusted podiatrists Dr. Vikki and Dr. Connie at the Superior Foot & Ankle Care Center today.