What is a broken toe?
A broken toe is a break, or fracture, in a bone of your toe. A fracture can range from a hairline crack in the bone to the bone being broken into two or more pieces that no longer line up correctly.
What causes a broken toe?
You may break (fracture) one of your toes by stubbing it, dropping something on it, or bending it. A hairline crack (stress fracture) may occur after a sudden increase in activity, such as increased running or walking.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a broken toe may include pain when you move your toe. You may have noticed a snap or pop at the time of injury. There may be swelling and bruising. The toe may also be in a different position than normal.
How is it diagnosed?
A broken toe is diagnosed through a physical examination. Your health professional will look for swelling, purple or black and blue spots, and tenderness. An X-ray may be needed to determine whether the toe is broken or dislocated.
How is a broken toe treated?
Some broken toes can be cared for at home. Try using ice, elevating the foot, and resting.
Treatment depends on which toe is broken, where in the toe the break is, and how bad the break is. Medical treatment is needed more often for a broken big toe than for the other toes. If you don't have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, your toe can be buddy-taped to the healthy toe next to it. Put some soft padding, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. This helps protect the skin. Your injured toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal. If your injured toe hurts more after buddy taping it, take the tape off.
Other treatment may be needed. Your doctor may recommend:
- Wearing a splint or cast to keep the toe stable and help it heal.
- Surgery. This may be an option for a bad break.
A fracture that isn't treated may cause long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.
How can you care for your broken toe?
- If your toe is taped to the toe next to it, your doctor has shown you how to change the tape. Protect the skin by putting something soft, such as felt or foam, between your toes before you tape them together. Never tape the toes together skin-to-skin. Your broken toe may need to be buddy-taped for 2 to 4 weeks to heal.
- Rest and protect your toe. Do not walk on it until you can do so without too much pain. If the doctor has told you to use crutches, use them as instructed.
- Put ice or a cold pack on your toe for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
- Prop up your foot on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
- Make sure you go to your follow-up appointments. Your doctor will need to check that your toe is healing right.
- Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- Store your prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.
Current as of: July 18, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.