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Broken toe - self-care

Fractured toe - self-care; Broken bone - toe - self-care; Fracture - toe - self-care; Fracture phalanx - toe

Each toe is made up of 2 or 3 small bones. These bones are small and fragile. They can break after you stub your toe or drop something heavy on it.

More About Your Injury

Broken toes are a common injury. The fracture is most often treated without surgery and can be taken care of at home.

Severe injuries include:

  • Breaks that cause the toe to be crooked
  • Breaks that cause an open wound
  • Injuries that involve the big toe

If you have a severe injury, you should seek medical help.

Injuries that involve the big toe may need a cast or splint to heal. In rare cases, tiny pieces of bone can break off and keep the bone from healing properly. In this case, you may need surgery.

What to Expect

Symptoms of a broken toe include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising that can last up to 2 weeks
  • Stiffness

If your toe is crooked after the injury, the bone may be out of place and may need to be straightened in order to heal properly. This may be done either with or without surgery.

Most broken toes will heal on their own with proper care at home. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for complete healing. Pain and swelling will go away within a few days to a week.

If something was dropped on the toe, the area under the toenail can bruise. This will go away in time with nail growth. If there is substantial blood under the nail, it may be removed to reduce pain and potentially prevent the loss of the nail.

Symptom Relief

For the first few days or weeks after your injury:

  • Rest. Stop doing any physical activity that causes pain, and keep your foot immobile whenever possible.
  • For the first 24 hours, ice your toe for 20 minutes every hour you are awake, then 2 to 3 times a day. DO NOT apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Keep your foot raised to help keep swelling down.
  • Take pain medicine if necessary.

For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).

  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider.
  • DO NOT give aspirin to children.

You may also take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you have liver disease, talk with your provider before using this medicine.

DO NOT take more than the amount recommended on the medicine bottle or by your provider.

Your provider may prescribe a stronger medicine if needed.

Self-care at Home

To take care of your injury at home:

  • Buddy taping. Wrap tape around the injured toe and the toe next to it. This helps keep your toe stable. Place a small wad of cotton between your toes to prevent tissues from becoming too moist. Change the cotton daily.
  • Footwear. It may be painful to wear a regular shoe. In this case, your doctor can provide a stiff-bottomed shoe. This will protect your toe and make room for swelling. Once swelling has gone down, wear a solid, stable shoe to protect your toe.

Activity

Slowly increase the amount of walking you do each day. You can return to normal activity once the swelling has gone down, and you can wear a stable and protective shoe.

There may be some soreness and stiffness when you walk. This will go away once the muscles in your toe begin to stretch and strengthen.

Ice your toe after activity if there is any pain.

More severe injuries that require casting, reduction, or surgery will take time to heal, possibly 6 to 8 weeks.

Follow-up

Follow up with your provider 1 to 2 weeks after your injury. If the injury is severe, your provider may want to see you more than once.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you have any of the following:

  • Sudden numbness or tingling
  • A sudden increase in pain or swelling
  • An open wound or bleeding
  • Fever or chills
  • Healing that is slower than expected
  • Red streaks on the toe or foot
  • Toes that appear more crooked or bent

References

Eiff MP, Hatch R. Toe fractures. In: Eiff MP, Hatch R, eds. Fracture Management for Primary Care, Updated Edition. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2018:chap 16.

Rose NGW, Green TJ. Ankle and foot. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 51.

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          Review Date: 4/7/2018

          Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/24/2019.

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