You’re frantically – painfully – hopping around the gym, wondering how on earth you could have possibly dropped that weight directly on your toe. Or, you’re seeing stars, having stubbed your toe on a doorjamb or other solid, immovable object in the middle of the night. When you’re finally done whooping in pain (take all the time you need!)…you’ll inevitably ask yourself: Is my toe broken?
Yes, our toes are sometimes magnets for painful encounters with the world around us. From getting crushed inside tight-fitting shoes, to being stepped on, smashed or slammed, they can take a beating. There may be soreness and a throbbing pain, but most of the time, we can shake it off, walk gingerly for a bit, then quickly forget about the discomfort. However, there are times when we may be dealing with more than a bruise or sprain, instead facing a toe fracture that may require medical attention.
All you know is that it hurts…but how can you tell if it’s broken without seeing clear signs like bone protrusion or bleeding? Below are signs that will help you to know if your toe is broken or not:
- Check the toe for moving bones – Touch your toe to feel if any of the bones are moving inside. If it feels painful as you touch it and the bones move inside the toe, you may likely have a broken toe.
- Check the shape and size of your toe – Normally, a broken toe looks as if it is out of joint or swollen. If it is, that is a strong sign that your toe is broken. If it is a mere stubbing of the toe, you will experience the pain briefly and it will go away without swelling. To check whether your toe is swollen, compare it to the corresponding toe on the opposite foot. The broken toe will look bigger in size.
- Check for pain – Do you experience a persistent pain in your toe when press it or stand up? It might be an indication that it is broken. You may still be able to walk with a broken toe, but moving around will increase the pain tremendously. You may need to see your doctor immediately.
- Check for color changes – A broken toe usually changes color. It may look blue, yellow, black or red. It may even bleed. In a severe case, the toe bone can break through the skin (bone protrusion). If this is the case, you need to see your doctor urgently.
- Check for numbness or tingling – If you don’t feel normal sensation in your toe, for example, if it goes numb or it is tingly, it means there is pressure on, or damage to the nerves of the toe. These are nerves that run up the sides of the toe. Lost sensation can also signal a fracture.
If you suspect your toe is broken, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a podiatrist in order to get it properly evaluated. Your foot doctor may order an X-ray in order to provide you with an optimal treatment plan. Most broken toes can heal without the need for surgery, often within 4-6 weeks. However, depending on the fracture, it may be necessary to wear a stiff-soled shoe or other device to assist in the healing. Surgery is usually unnecessary, unless the degree of damage is especially high.
Dr. Gabriel Maislos is a Houston podiatric surgeon who has treated many patients with broken toes over the years. To schedule an appointment with him, call Houston Foot and Ankle Care at (713) 541-3199. We offer same-day and next-day appointments, so you won’t have to wait long to have your broken toe examined and treated.