Summit Orthopedics foot and ankle surgeon Samuel Russ, M.D., discusses the options available to help broken toes heal.
You’re walking around your house barefoot, and you stub your toe against a heavy piece of furniture. Or maybe you’re juggling bags full of groceries and drop a heavy jar on your toe. Or maybe you’re playing a casual, backyard game of soccer with your kids — while wearing flip-flops — and you kick the ball just the wrong way. There are a thousand ways to do it, but many people know the pain of this common orthopedic injury: a broken toe.
Symptoms of a broken toe
Symptoms of a broken toe include severe pain, bruising, swelling, discoloration of the toenail, difficulty walking, and a crooked appearance. We caught up with Summit Orthopedics foot and ankle surgeon Samuel Russ, M.D., to learn more about broken toes and the treatment options available.
Breaking the big toe
The first thing to know, according to Dr. Russ, is that not all toes are created equal. “The big toe is the most important for bearing weight and walking,” he said. “The rest of the toes are much less important.”
The most common ways to break your big toe are by dropping something on it or stubbing it, most often by kicking something. Because the big toe is a key part of how you balance on your feet when walking, proper treatment is important.
“With the big toe, we’ll be more aggressive with treatment,” Dr. Russ said. Treatment options depend on the exact nature of the break. In some cases, the broken bones will no longer be aligned with each other (a situation called “displacement”). In those instances, a doctor might numb the toe and pull the toe back into alignment before immobilizing it with a brace, splint, or cast so that it can heal.
More severe breaks may require surgery so that they will heal properly. “For a very severe break, we might choose to fuse the joints of the big toe,” resulting in more stability but less flexibility in the toe, Dr. Russ said.
A broken toe among the “little toes”
If you’ve broken a toe other than the big toe, it’s a different story. “Very rarely do broken lesser toes need intervention,” Dr. Russ said.
If you suspect that your toe is broken, it’s smart to get evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. “We recommend that people who think they have broken a toe be seen to verify the diagnosis and make sure nothing needs to be done,” Dr. Russ said.
In most cases, the approach toward a broken lesser toe is focused on treating the symptoms of pain, bruising, and swelling. Dr. Russ recommends walking in a stiff-soled shoe for a few weeks, while the toe heals.
If the broken toe is pointing in the wrong direction, a simple office-based procedure can put it back into alignment. Buddy taping — taping the broken toe to the one next to it using medical tape – can help keep the toes straight and provide a little extra support.
In rare cases, surgery might be needed. “If it’s really smashed, very rarely we will do surgery to hold the bones in place with a pin,” Dr. Russ said.
One more thing to keep in mind, according to Dr. Russ: broken toes hurt, and the pain can last for a long time. “If you break your toe, or even stub it, it can take a really long time to become pain-free — up to six months after the break, even when the bone has healed,” he said. “It can swell and be very sore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong.”
He encourages people to see their Summit specialist with any concerns about a potentially broken toe or the healing process.
Summit Orthopedics offers personalized foot and ankle expertise
Our fellowship-trained foot and ankle physicians understand that your mobility depends on the health of your feet and ankles. Summit Orthopedics specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely get you back on your feet and on your way.
Start your journey to optimal foot health. Find your foot and ankle expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.
More resources for you:
- Find out about the connection between foot health and overall health.
- Learn about the benefits of physical therapy for foot pain.
- Read about Summit’s foot and ankle care.