There is a common saying that describes how it is the little things in life that matter most. We often get so caught up in the big distractions and forget all the wonderful small things that make a big difference in our lives. When it comes to the human body the same can be true – the littlest parts matter a lot. Your toes are essential in movement and balance and are often vulnerable to injury as well.
A toe fracture can happen in an instant or develop over time. You may feel symptoms come on suddenly or notice over time that something just isn’t right. In any case, your toes matter, and as an integral part of your foot health, any sign of discomfort should be evaluated.
The Breakdown on Toe Fractures
Fractures of the toe are one of the most common lower extremity fractures and are typically caused by a blow to the toe or a force such as stubbing your toe. We have all done that at some point, and it can be really painful. Unfortunately, toes are often forgotten and ignored when they are injured. We often limp around, waiting for our symptoms to just subside. A toe doesn’t have to look crooked or be extremely painful for a break to be present. We can often walk on a fractured toe, which is the one sign that many use as justification to forgo treatment.
Toe fractures can happen through axial force (stubbing your toe), a crushing injury (dropping a heavy object on your foot) or through hyperextension (when your toe bends farther than normal). The bones in your toes are called phalanges and a fracture in one of them means that a break has occurred. It can be minor or major but it is important to note that a fracture is indeed a true break in a bone.
Stress fractures are tiny breaks in the surface of the bone and occur frequently in the bones of the toes. This type usually develops over time. If you are an athlete, a stress fracture could develop with overtraining, improper technique or from wearing poor-fitting footwear. All other fractures extend through the bone and are considered to be either stable or displaced. With a stable fracture the bones remain aligned, but with displaced break, there is a shift in bone alignment.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have a broken toe, your symptoms may start out minor but progress over time. You may be able to walk, but pressure often aggravates the pain. The most common signs of a toe fracture include achiness, swelling, bruising, stiffness, throbbing pain that worsens with weight-bearing, and decreased range of motion. With more severe fractures you may see a visible deformity or a break in the skin where the bone has broken.
Treatment – When to Call
If you think you have broken a bone in one or more of your toes, we encourage you to contact our office as soon as possible. Seek immediate medical attention if the skin is broken, you can see displaced bone, or if there is deformity to the toe.
If your injury is minor in nature, it is still important to diagnose the nature of the injury to ensure the toe heals properly. If any skin has broken, there is a higher risk of infection in the bone, and a fractured joint that does not receive proper treatment is also at a higher risk for osteoarthritis later on.
Depending on the nature of your injury, we may need to manipulate the pieces of bone back into proper position, immobilize the toe with “buddy” taping it to a neighboring toe, provide you with a stiff-bottomed post-surgical shoe, use casting, or perform surgery in more severe situations.
You only have one set of toes and even a minor injury such as a toe fracture needs to be carefully and properly treated. Contact Dr. Harvey Danciger if you have any questions or concerns about a possible fracture. Call our office at (760) 568-0108 or request an appointment online.