A toe fracture, though very painful, is not usually a serious injury. Nonetheless, it must be appropriately treated to ensure proper healing. In most cases, a toe fracture, particularly of one of the small toes, can be treated nonsurgically, frequently by home remedies. At times, however, if the fracture is more severe, greater immobilization or surgery maybe required to prevent permanent damage.
Causes of a Toe Fracture
There are many possible causes of a toe fracture. The injury may be caused be stubbing the toe, dropping something on it, or bending it out of position. A stress fracture, also known as a hairline fracture, may be the result of a sudden increase in the intensity of simple exercise, like walking or running.
Symptoms of a Toe Fracture
There are several symptoms that may indicate a toe has been fractured, including one or more of the following:
- Severe pain increased by touch or movement
- Inability to move the toe
- Dark bruising
- Deformity (abnormal positioning)
Sometimes when a toe, or any bone, is fractured, a popping sound is heard at the moment of impact.
Diagnosis of a Toe Fracture
In order to diagnose a toe fracture, after a physical examination, the foot is X-rayed to assess the damage. During the physical examination, the doctor looks for swelling, dark bruising, the location of the worst pain, and any abnormality in positioning. The X-ray shows whether there is actually a fracture, as well as its precise location and severity.
Treatment of a Toe Fracture
Usually, in the case of a minor toe fracture of one of the small toes, home remedies are all that is necessary. These include rest, application of ice, and elevation of the affected foot. In many cases, the injured toe is simply taped to an adjacent toe to protect it from further injury and promote healing. This is known as "buddy taping." When a toe is buddy-taped, soft padding is placed between the toes to prevent chafing. There are situations in which buddy taping is not possible, such as if the patient has diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, either of which impair circulation, or if the procedure increases the patient's pain level.
When buddy taping is administered, it is generally left in position for 2 to 4 weeks. The fractured toe usually heals within 4 to 6 weeks.
In rare instances, when the fracture is severe, the toe may require full immobilization to protect it from further injury. This may take the form of a splint, brace, or short leg cast. Surgery is sometimes necessary, most often when the big toe is the one fractured. Without treatment of a severe fracture, there may be serious consequences, such as limited mobility, deformity of the toe in question, and long-term pain.