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Broken toe overview

A broken toe, or fractured toe, is a common foot injury. Causes of a broken toe range from stubbing the toe, to dropping something on it, to sports injuries.

A broken toe can take up to six weeks to heal

Broken toe symptoms

  • After the injury, pain, swelling or stiffness will occur. Bruising of the skin around the toe may also be noticeable. The toe may not look normal, and it may even look bent or deformed if the broken bone is out of place. It may be difficult to walk because of the pain, especially if the big toe is fractured.
  • Shoes may be painful to wear or feel too tight.
  • Some other problems may develop in addition to, or as a result of, the fracture. These complications can occur right away after the injury (minutes to days), or can happen much later (weeks to years).

Immediate complications

  • Nail injury: A collection of blood may develop underneath the toenail called a subungual haematoma. If it is large, it may have to be drained. To drain a subungual haematoma a doctor will make a small hole in the toenail to drain the blood out. If the haematoma is very large or painful, the entire toenail may need to be removed.
  • Open fracture: Rarely, the broken bone in a toe fracture may stick out through the skin. This is called an open or compound fracture. Careful cleansing of the wound and possibly antibiotic medication will be needed to prevent the bone becoming infected. Sometimes surgery may even be necessary.

Delayed complications

  • After the toe fracture heals, the person may still be left with arthritis, pain, stiffness or even a deformity.
  • Sometimes, the fractured bone will not heal completely (called a non-union), or will heal improperly (called a malunion). Rarely, surgery may be necessary to fix this problem.

When to seek medical care

The injured toe should be looked at by the person every day. Seek medical advice if any of the following occur:

  • Worsening or new pain not relieved by pain medication and the measures described in the treatment section
  • Sores, redness or open wounds near the injured toe
  • A cast or splint is damaged or broken

Go to a hospital A&E department if the following signs or symptoms are present:

  • Cold, numb or tingling toes
  • Blue or grey coloured skin
  • Open wounds, bleeding or drainage from near the broken toe

Examinations and tests

A doctor will ask some questions to determine how the toe was injured. Then the doctor will examine the injured toe and should also make sure there are no other injuries.

It is best to seek medical evaluation soon after the injury to ensure correct treatment and proper healing.

  • A doctor may take an X-ray to see if a toe is broken or fractured.
  • X-rays are not always necessary to make the diagnosis of a broken toe, especially if the break is in one of the smaller toes.

WebMD Medical Reference

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