It can happen to anyone. A toe can be stubbed on the corner of a bed, something heavy might drop on it, or you might accidentally twist one of your toes while running or jogging. The resulting injury is sometimes a broken toe. If you’re under the assumption there’s nothing you can really do about a broken toe except let it heal, you may not consider seeing a foot doctor about it. But there are some important steps you should take when you have a toe you think may be fractured.
Look for Signs of a Toe Fracture
The first thing to do after something happens that may have injured your toe is to look for signs of a fracture. Sometimes, a snap or pop is heard at the time of injury. Other times, there may be visible swelling or bruising. A minor hairline fracture may result in pain felt with certain movements of the affected toe.
Use Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Most of the pain from a broken toe comes from swelling of tissues in the affected area. Applying ice immediately can help minimize inflammation and ease some of your initial discomfort. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) may also ease swelling. Elevating your foot as much as possible can also help reduce inflammation.
Get a Positive Diagnosis
Unless there’s a visible deformity, the only way to positively know if you have a broken toe is to get a diagnosis. A podiatrist will examine the affected toe and evaluate the rest of your foot to rule out other conditions such as bursitis, which may result in pain in and around toes. An X-ray is sometimes performed to determine if a fractured toe is also dislocated.
Seek Treatment If Home Remedies Aren’t Helping
Minor toe fractures often heal well with rest and other home remedies. But if you reach a point where such treatments aren’t effective, a foot specialist can provide more comprehensive care. If you do not have an underlying condition like peripheral arterial disease or diabetes that may require special attention, buddy taping may be a recommended treatment. This is when the largest adjacent non-broken toe is taped to the broken one to prevent motion. Use cotton balls and gauze to prevent skin irritations between toes. For more severe fractures, splinting or bracing might be done. Surgery may be necessary for severe toe breaks.
It typically takes a fractured toe about 6 to 12 weeks to heal. In addition to the treatments already discussed, a podiatrist can also recommend custom orthotics or special shoes that could make your daily life easier until your toe heals. Also, keep in mind that delaying treatment sometimes contributes to damage to nearby tissues or long-term problems like osteoarthritis. If you suspect a broken toe, it’s best to see a foot doctor for an assessment.