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Broken foot overview

Having a broken foot means a fracture or crack in one of the bones in the foot.

The area around the fracture will feel tender and there may be bruising.

Having a broken foot needs prompt medical attention, and weight needs to be kept off the foot until it has been assessed by a doctor.

Foots bones overview

The human foot has 26 bones.

The foot can be divided into three parts: the hindfoot, the midfoot and the forefoot.

  • There are two bones in the hindfoot. These are the talus, which is where the foot attaches to the leg, and the calcaneus, which forms the heel.
  • Five smaller bones called the navicular, cuboid and three cuneiforms make up the midfoot.
  • The long part of the foot is called the forefoot and contains 19 bones. There is a metatarsal for each of the five toes, the big toe is made up of two phalanges, and the other toes each have three phalanges.
  • In addition, the foot sometimes has some small pebble-like bones called sesamoid bones. These bones do not perform any necessary function and are often called accessory bones.

 

Broken foot causes

Bones usually break when something happens to crush, bend, twist or stretch the bone.

  • Toes are often broken when you accidentally kick something hard.
  • Heels are often broken when you fall from a height and land on your feet.
  • Other bones in the foot sometimes break when you twist or sprain an ankle.

Most bones break all of a sudden during some sort of accident or immediate injury. Occasionally, small cracks can form in bones over a longer period of time from repeated stress on the bones. These are called stress fractures. They occur most commonly in soldiers hiking in full gear or in athletes such as dancers, runners and gymnasts.

Broken bones are more common in children than in adults.

  • In adults, bones are stronger than ligaments (which connect bones to other bones) and tendons (which connect bones to muscles). In children, ligaments and tendons are relatively stronger than bone or cartilage. As a result, injuries that may only cause a sprain in an adult may cause a broken bone in a child. However, a child's forefoot is generally flexible and very resilient to injuries of any kind.
  • When metatarsal or phalangeal fractures do occur, they may be difficult to recognise because many parts of a growing child's bone do not show up well on X-rays. For this reason it is sometimes helpful to get X-rays of the child's other, uninjured foot to compare to the hurt foot.

 

Broken foot symptoms

Broken bones in the foot cause pain and swelling.

  • Usually (but not always) the pain is so bad, that you are not able to walk. Broken bones in the toes cause less pain, and you may be able to walk with a broken toe.
  • Bruising of the foot with a broken bone is also common.
  • Sprains can also cause bad pain, swelling and bruising, so it is usually not possible to tell if a foot is broken or sprained just by looking at it.

Here's what to do when examining an injured foot for a possible broken bone.

  • Take the shoe and sock off the good foot as well. Compare both feet side-by-side to figure out how much swelling is present in the injured foot.
  • Look for any large cuts or wounds. Large cuts or wounds that expose a broken bone are more serious.
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