Broken Toe Overview
Another name for a broken toe is a toe fracture. Each toe is made up of several bones. One or more of these bones may be fractured after an injury to the foot or toes.
Broken Toe Causes
Broken toes usually result from some form of trauma or injury to the foot or toe. Injuries such as stubbing a toe or dropping a heavy object on a toe may cause a fracture. Sometimes a broken toe may result from prolonged repetitive movements, as in certain sports activities. This is called a stress fracture.
Broken Toe Symptoms
- After the injury, pain, swelling, or stiffness will occur. Bruising of the skin around the toe may also be noticeable. The toe may not look normal, and it may even look bent or deformed if the broken bone is out of place. It may be difficult to walk because of the pain, especially if the big toe is fractured.
- Shoes may be painful to wear or feel too tight.
- A doctor may take an x-ray film to see if a toe is broken, but x-ray films are not always necessary if the fracture is in one of the smaller toes.
- Some other problems may develop in addition to, or as a result of, the fracture. These complications can occur right away after the injury (minutes to days), or can happen much later (weeks to years).
- Immediate complications
- Nail injury: A collection of blood may develop underneath the toenail called a subungual hematoma. If it is large, it may have to be drained. To drain a subungual hematoma a doctor will make a small hole in the toenail to drain the blood out. If the hematoma is very large or painful, the entire toenail may need to be removed.
- Open fracture: Rarely, the broken bone in a toe fracture may stick out through the skin. This is called an open or compound fracture. Careful cleansing of the wound and possibly antibiotic medication will be needed to prevent the bone from becoming infected. Sometimes surgery may even be necessary.
- Delayed complications
- After the toe fracture heals, the person may still be left with arthritis, pain, stiffness, or even a deformity.
- Sometimes, the fractured bone will not heal completely (called a nonunion), or will heal improperly (called a malunion). Rarely, surgery may be necessary to fix this problem.
When to Seek Medical Care
The injured toe should be looked at every day. Call a doctor if any of the following occur:
- Worsening or new pain not relieved by pain medication and the measures described in the treatment section
- Sores, redness, or open wounds near the injured toe
- A cast or splint is damaged or broken
Go to a hospital’s emergency department if the following signs or symptoms are present:
- Cold, numb, or tingling toes
- Blue or gray colored skin
- Open wounds, bleeding, or drainage from near the broken toe