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What to Know About Stepping on Glass

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 15, 2021

‌Stepping on sharp glass can be frightening and painful. Taking care of a glass splinter injury in your foot can prevent further health problems.

Read on to find out the risks of stepping on glass, how you can remove a glass splinter, and more.

What is a Glass Splinter?

‌Splinters happen when a sharp object gets stuck in your skin. Small splinters can be painless. Larger, deeper splinters may cause severe pain. Serious splinter injuries can lead to infection and long-term damage. 

Common objects that cause splinters include:

  • Plant thorns or needles, like cacti
  • Sharp, thin pieces of metal
  • Small pieces of plastic
  • Glass
  • Wood 

Causes of Glass Foot Splinters

‌You could step on glass any time you’re not wearing shoes.

Common situations and places where you might get a glass splinter include:

  • Household accidents like dropping a glass cup or ornament
  • The beach
  • A street or paved area
  • A public park
  • Anywhere you see broken glass on the ground

‌You usually don’t look straight at the ground while you’re walking or moving. This can make it harder to notice broken glass before you step on it.

Symptoms of Glass Foot Splinter

Stepping on glass may cause:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain when walking or standing
  • Feeling like there’s something inside your foot
  • Redness around the injury
  • Swelling

‌Some minor glass splinters may not cause any pain. If your splinter injury is small enough, you can leave it in your foot. Your body will naturally get rid of it as it sheds skin. A small pimple might form around the area as it heals.

How to Treat Stepping on Glass at Home

‌You may be able to remove a glass splinter at home by following these steps:‌

Clean the injured area. Germs can infect the wound if it’s not clean enough. Use soap and warm water to wash the area. Pat rubbing alcohol on the area to kill any other germs.

Use tools. You can use tweezers to pull out the glass splinter. Clean the tweezers by dipping them in boiling water and rinsing them with rubbing alcohol.‌

The tweezers will help you grab the glass if it’s too small for your fingers. Use a clean needle to scrape surrounding skin out of the way.‌

Clean and protect the area after removal. Wash the area with soap and water again. Cover it with antibiotic ointment and a bandage. This helps prevent infection.

When to See the Doctor After Stepping on Glass

‌You may need medical help if you’re having trouble with a glass splinter injury.

Contact a doctor if:

  • The glass is out, but it’s still painful.‌
  • Redness is spreading around the area. 
  • The area is swelling. 
  • You haven’t been able to remove the glass for over 12 hours. 
  • You can’t move your toes. 
  • Walking and standing on your foot is painful.
  • You have a fever.
  • You think you need medical attention.‌

A doctor might try several treatments if you've stepped on glass.‌

X-ray. X-rays, or radiography, show the inside of your body using radiation energy. An X-ray can help the doctor see objects like glass inside your skin. 

X-rays take a few minutes. You’ll likely lie down on a table while a machine right above you takes the picture.‌

Computed Tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan is similar to an X-ray. It shows more detail than an X-ray. Very small glass pieces are easier to see with a CT scan.‌

Tetanus shot. Harmful germs can infect cuts, splinters, and other open wounds. One dangerous type of bacterial infection is tetanus. Tetanus can lead to death if it’s not treated.‌

You need 5 doses of the tetanus vaccine to be fully immune. If you haven’t gotten all 5 doses, a doctor may order a tetanus shot to prevent infection.‌

Removal of the splinter. A doctor can remove the glass splinter from your foot. They may numb the area with anesthetic to reduce pain.‌

The doctor may use special tools like forceps to pull out the glass. Forceps are like medical-quality tweezers. They may also cut the skin around the splinter to make sure they remove it.

Risks of Stepping on Glass

‌Stepping on glass can lead to serious health problems if you don’t treat it. These problems can include:‌

Nerve damage. If a piece of glass reaches deep enough into your foot, it could cut a nerve. This could lead to long-lasting foot pain. Foot nerve damage can also cause problems with balance, walking, and other important functions. ‌

Infection. Tetanus and other infections like cellulitis and MRSA can happen if you don’t properly clean a glass splinter. In severe cases, you may need a foot amputation.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: “Hand Infection.”

HealthyChildren.org from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Splinters and Other Foreign Bodies in the Skin.”

Hopkins Medicine: “CT Scan Versus MRI Versus X-Ray: What Type of Imaging Do I Need?"

KidsHealth from Nemours: “First Aid: Splinters.”

Journal of Dental Research Dental Clinics Dental Prospects: "Detection of Foreign Bodies by Spiral Computed Tomography and Cone Beam Computed Tomography in Maxillofacial Regions."

Mayo Clinic: “Foreign object in the skin: First aid.”

Merck Manuals: “Damage to the Nerves in the Foot.”

NHS: “Do I need a tetanus jab (vaccine) after an accident or injury?”

Seattle Children’s: “Sliver or Splinter.”

TrustCare Health: "5 Creative Ways to Painlessly Remove a Splinter."

University of Utah Health: “ER OR NOT: STEPPED ON A GLASS ORNAMENT."

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