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Definition

A toe fracture is a break in a toe bone. The bones in the toes are called phalanges.

The Phalanges of the Foot
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Causes

A toe fracture is caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma can result from:

  • Dropping something on your toe
  • Stubbing your toe
  • Falling down
  • Direct blow to the toe

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of a toe fracture include:

  • Advanced age
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor nutrition
  • Participating in contact sports
  • Not wearing shoes

Symptoms

A toe fracture may cause:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Stiffness in the injured area
  • Inability to move toe
  • Bruising in injured area
  • Numbness or tingling in the toes
  • Visible deformity in the toe area
  • Difficulty walking (sometimes)

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, level of physical activity, how the injury occurred, and will examine the injured area. Your doctor may take an x-ray of the foot, but this is not always needed.

Treatment

Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with your toe, such as immobility or misalignment. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:

Intial Care

Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep your toe in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include buddy taping (your injured toe is taped to healthy toes next to it), a walking cast, or stiff bottom shoe.

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:

  • Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
  • With surgery—pins or screws may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place

Children’s bones are still growing at an area of the bone called the growth plate. If the fracture affected the growth plate, your child may need to see a specialist. Injuries to the growth plate will need to be monitored to make sure the bone can continue to grow as expected.

Medication

Prescription or over-the-counter medications may be given to help reduce inflammation and pain.

Medications may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Check with your doctor before taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.

Rest and Recovery

Healing time varies by age and your overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster. In general, it takes up to 6-8 weeks for a fractured toe to heal.

You will need to adjust your activities while your toe heals, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice and elevating the leg at rest may also be recommended to help with discomfort and swelling.

Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.

If you have a fractured toe, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of toe fractures, take these steps:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.
  • Wear proper fitting and appropriate shoes for any activity.
  • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
  • Do weight-bearing and strengthening exercises regularly to build strong bones.

To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:

  • Clean spills and slippery areas right away
  • Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub
  • Put in handrails on both sides of stairways
  • Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls
  • Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

    http://www.orthoinfo.org

  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

    http://www.sportsmed.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Association

    http://www.coa-aco.org

  • Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

    http://www.canorth.org

  • Hatch RL, Hacking S. Evaluation and management of toe fractures [review]. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(12):2413-2418.

  • March fracture. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated November 3, 2012. Accessed September 14, 2013.

  • Ribbans WJ, Natarajan R, Alavala S. Pediatric foot fractures. Clin Orthop. 2005;(432):107-115.

  • Toe and forefoot fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00165 . Updated September 2012. Accessed September 14, 2013.