Do You Have a Broken Foot or Toe?

by | Oct 18, 2021

Nobody ever wants to think this, but there’s very likely at least one time in your life you have: “Did I just break something?”

And when it comes to that question, the feet and toes tend to be a frequent focus. They take on great deals of force every day just from walking and running. Tripping, stubbing, slamming into bedposts, and sharp twists from stumbles into holes all add to the risk that a foot or toe fracture can occur.

A broken toe or a foot fracture can be a relatively common problem. They can range from small cracks to serious shatters, but every such injury deserves to receive a proper evaluation and treatment. Not doing so can potentially lead to chronic pain and other complications in the future.

Not all Fractures Are the Same

Force is typically what causes a fracture. Many people immediately think of a sudden, high impact – like a big fall or a hard hit – and many fractures certain occur that way. Not all of them, however.

Some fractures occur as the result of long periods of stress upon bones over time. When we exercise or engage in repetitive stress or impacts, it can gradually break down the bone on a cellular level. Typically, when we rest, the body has an opportunity to recover and build back stronger. 

If the rate of breakdown outpaces the rate of recovery, however, the bone will continue to weaken until it cracks along the surface. This is a type of sports injury known as a stress fracture.   

So a fracture does not necessarily mean that a break has to occur all the way through a bone. Surface cracks can cause pain and require attention, too.

    How Do You Know You Have a Fracture?

    Because fractures can occur in a variety of ways and severities, you might not automatically know when you have fractured a toe or any other part of your foot. 

    Nevertheless, rapid identification is crucial for treating these injuries and achieving the best results in recovery. Continuing to walk, work, or play on a broken foot can increase the severity of the fracture and lengthen the necessary rehabilitation time.

    So, it pays to be mindful of potential signs of a fracture and be cautious if you suspect you might have one. 

    Common symptoms of an undiagnosed fracture can include:

    • Discomfort when standing, walking, or otherwise bearing weight on the feet.
    • Changes in the appearance of your foot, including swelling, bruising, or deformity.
    • Intense, throbbing pain at the time of the injury (not necessarily pinpointable if a stress fracture).
    • General tenderness and/or swelling at the area of the injury.
    • Pain that worsens with activity but improves with rest.
    • Pain when putting on or removing your shoes.

    Hearing a “snap” or “pop” at a time of intense pain is often cited as a sign of a fracture, but that might not always be the case. Such sounds and sensations can also result from injuries to ligaments (severe sprains) or tendons (tendon ruptures). 

    Regardless of what the injury may actually be, any sort of sound or intense pain is a sign that you should call us right away. Don’t worry about what it might be – we can figure that out for you.

    close up of bandage index toe of the female patient sleeping in the patient bed after an accident in the hospital.

    Treating a Foot or Toe Fracture

    There is a line of reasoning that says there is nothing you can really do for most toe fractures, so they’re not worth seeing a professional about. We do not agree with this.

    Every potentially troublesome foot injury is worth an evaluation, even if it is only to verify that no further action than home treatment is necessary. What might feel like a minor toe fracture, for example, can cause more problems in the future if it does not heal properly, including chronic pain or arthritis. We would rather make sure that everything is fine with a toe than assume it is and let a potential difficulty go overlooked.

    So do please feel free to contact us for any toe or foot fracture you may have. Before your appointment, follow simple first aid protocol to help with pain and swelling:

    • REST – Keep weight off the affected foot.
    • ICE – Apply a cold pack (carefully) to the area for 15-20 minutes at a time, making sure to wrap the pack in a thin towel to avoid direct contact with the skin.
    • ELEVATE – Keep the injured area above the level of your heart whenever sitting or lying down.

    When you come to see us, we will likely perform a thorough examination, including asking you questions about when you first felt symptoms, when they are worse, etc. An imaging test such as an x-ray or our lower extremity foot and ankle MRI might also be necessary to confirm a fracture, its exact location, and its severity. 

    Fortunately, most fractures don’t require surgery. We may recommend a temporary stop to or reduction in certain activities to allow time to heal and may apply a cast or supportive boot to protect the area from further injury.

    If your fracture (most often a stress fracture), was the result of certain activities, we may recommend making adjustments to your activity intensity, footwear, and other factors that can help reduce your risk of further fractures in the future. Additional treatments such as custom orthotics can also help shift excess weight away from vulnerable areas if a structural imbalance is contributing to your fracture risk.

    Get Back on the Mend

    If you suspect you have an untreated foot or toe fracture, don’t wait on receiving the care you may need. Schedule an appointment at Advanced Foot & Ankle Centers of Illinois today by giving us a call or filling out our online contact form

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