A foot fracture occurs when one or more of the 26 bones of the foot break as a result of either a sudden trauma or chronic overuse. In general, foot fractures come in two broad categories:
- Full foot fracture: typically a result of a one-time trauma to the foot, such as a car crash or impact from a blunt and heavy object to the foot.
- Stress fracture: caused by repeated stress to a bone or multiple bones in the foot, a stress fracture may sound less severe than a full foot fracture, but it still entails a breakage of the bone in the foot.
There are, in addition, different types of bone fractures depending on their nature:
- Non-displaced: when a bone breaks but stays in place.
- Displaced: when a bone breaks into two pieces that move apart from one another.
- Comminuted: when a bone is broken in multiple places in the foot.
- Open fracture: when a bone breaks through the skin after fracturing.
Home Treatment for a Foot Fracture
If you suspect that a fracture might have occurred, it is best to err on the side of caution and apply first aid treatment to the affected foot. The acronym RICE can help you remember what to do in such a situation:
Rest: Rest the affected area. Stay off the injured foot until it can be fully evaluated. Walking, running, or playing sports on an injured foot may exacerbate the injury.
Ice: Apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible, and reapply it for 15–20 minutes every three or four hours for the first 48 hours after injury. Ice helps decrease inflammation.
Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around the affected foot. The wrapping should be snug, but not so tight as to cut off circulation.
Elevation: Elevate the affected extremity; ideally, your foot should be elevated higher than your chest/heart area. Keeping your foot elevated decreases blood flow to the area, and thus decreases swelling.
Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Visiting a Podiatrist for a Foot Fracture
If you notice increased pain, swelling, bruising, redness, or difficulty walking after an injury, you should see a podiatrist immediately. A podiatrist will take a complete medical history while examining your foot to look for areas of tenderness by applying gentle pressure directly to the injured bone. Often, the key to diagnosing a stress fracture is the patient’s report of pain in response to this pressure.
The podiatrist may then order tests, including an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI, to determine the extent of your injury. You may not need further testing beyond an X-ray if it clearly indicates the location of the fracture. Otherwise, ultrasounds and MRIs will be useful for finding soft issue injuries (including torn ligaments) and fractures that might not have shown in an X-ray.
Treatment Options for Foot Fractures
Treatment for a foot fracture will depend on your injury. If you have a broken bone, your podiatrist may attempt to reduce the fracture by lining up the ends of the bones so they can heal properly (reduction). You’ll be given a local anesthetic to numb the area should this be your treatment option.
An unstable fracture in which the ends of the bone do not stay in place after a reduction may require surgery. Internal fixation is the procedure during which pins, screws, and/or metal plates are used to hold the small bones of the foot together during the healing process.
Caring for a Fractured Foot
Your podiatrist may recommend that you use crutches to keep weight off your foot until the pain subsides. Other recommendations for caring for your injury during the healing process include:
Modified activities. It typically takes from 6 to 8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal. During that time, switch to activities that place less stress on your foot and leg. Swimming and cycling are good alternative activities; although you should not resume any type of physical activity that involves your injured foot or ankle – even if it is low impact – without your podiatrist’s recommendation.
Protective footwear. To reduce stress on your foot and leg, your podiatrist may recommend wearing protective footwear. This may be a stiff-soled shoe, a wooden-soled sandal, or a removable short-leg fracture brace shoe.
Casting. Stress fractures in some of the bones of the foot, such as the fifth metatarsal bone (on the outer side of the foot), take longer to heal. Your podiatrist may apply a cast to your foot to keep your bones in a fixed position and to remove the stress on your involved leg.
If you believe you’ve suffered a fracture anywhere in either of your feet, be sure to get in contact with Dr. Vikki and Dr. Connie at the Superior Foot and Ankle Care Center.