Each toe is made up of two or three small bones. These bones are small and fragile. They can break after you stub your toe or drop something heavy on it.
A broken bone is also called a fracture.
More about Your Injury
Broken toes are a common injury. The fracture is most often minor and can be taken care of at home.
Severe injuries include breaks that cause the toe to be crooked, breaks that cause an open wound, or injuries that involve the big toe. If you have a severe injury, you should seek medical help.
Injuries that involve the big toe may need a cast or splint to heal. In rare cases, tiny pieces of bone can break off and keep the bone from healing properly. In this case, you may need surgery.
What to Expect
Symptoms of a broken toe include:
Bruising that can last up to 2 weeks
If your toe is crooked after the injury, the bone may be out of place and need to be straightened in order to heal properly. This may be done either with or without surgery.
Most broken toes will heal on their own with proper care at home. It can take up to 4 - 6 weeks for complete healing. Pain and swelling will go away within a few days to a week.
If something was dropped on the toe, the area under the toenail can bruise. This will go away in time with nail growth. If there is blood until the nail, it may be removed to reduce pain.
Follow these steps for the first few days or weeks after your injury:
Rest -- halt any physical activity that causes pain and keep your foot immobile when possible.
Ice your toe for 20 minutes every hour you are awake for the first 24 hours, then 2 - 3 times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
Keep your foot raised to help keep swelling down.
Take pain medication if necessary.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider.
Do NOT give aspirin to children.
You may also take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you have liver disease,talk with your health care provider before using it.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.
Your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication if needed.
Self-care at Home
Buddy taping: Wrap tape around the injured toe and the toe next to it. This helps keep your toe stable. Place a small wad of cotton between your toes to prevent tissues from becoming too moist. Change the cotton daily.
Shoe wear: It may be painful to wear a regular shoe. In this case, your doctor can provide a stiff-bottomed shoe. This will protect your toe and make room for swelling. Once swelling has gone down, wear a solid, stable shoe to protect your toe.
Slowly increase the amount of walking each day. You can return to normal activity once the swelling has gone down and you can wear a stable and protective shoe.
There may be some soreness and stiffness when you walk. This will go away once the muscles in your toe begin to stretch and strengthen.
Ice your toe after activity if there is any pain.
More severe injuries that require casting, reduction, or surgery to fix them will need a longer time to heal, up to 6 - 8 weeks.
Follow up with your doctor 1 - 2 weeks after your injury. Based on your injury, your doctor may want to see you more than one time.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor if you have:
Sudden numbness or tingling
Sudden increase in pain or swelling
Any open wound or bleeding
Fevers or chills
Failure to heal as expected
Toe fracture. In: Buttaravoli: Minor Emergencies. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 133.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.