Although most people try to avoid foot trauma such as banging, stubbing, or dropping heavy objects on their feet, the unfortunate fact is that it is a common occurrence. Given the fact that toes are positioned in front of the feet, they typically sustain the brunt of such trauma. When trauma occurs to a toe, the result can be a painful break (fracture). Another type of trauma that can break a toe is repeated activity that places stress on the toe for prolonged periods of time.
Broken toes can be categorized as either minor or severe fractures. Symptoms of minor toe fractures include throbbing pain, swelling, bruising on the skin and toenail, and the inability to move the toe with ease. Severe toe fractures require medical attention and are indicated when the broken toe appears crooked or disfigured, when there is tingling or numbness in the toe, when the injured person experiences fever or chills throughout their body, and when there is an open, bleeding wound present on the toe.
Generally, a minor toe break will heal without long-term complications, but it is important to discontinue activities that put pressure on the toe. It is best to stay off of the injured toe with the affected foot elevated on pillows. Swelling can be alleviated by placing an ice pack on the broken toe for 15 minutes every two hours during the first two days after the fracture. The broken toe should be immobilized by placing a small cotton ball between the injured toe and the toe beside it, then taping the two toes together with medical tape.
Severe toe fractures may be treated with a splint, cast, and in some cases, minor surgery; especially when the big toe has been broken. Due to its position and the pressure it endures with daily activity, future complications can occur if the big toe is not properly treated. Pain associated with minor toe fractures can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications, and prescription pain killers may be necessary for severe toe fractures.
The healing time for a broken toe is approximately four to six weeks. In severe cases where the toe becomes infected or requires surgery, healing time can take up to eight weeks or more. While complications associated with a broken toe are immediately apparent, it is important to note that there are rare cases when additional complications, such as osteoarthritis, can develop over time.