We have all probably encountered the scenario where a friend or family member stubs a toe and falls to the ground crying in pain. As that poor soul is writhing in pain, someone in the room passes on that old piece of wisdom, "Well, you can't do anything for a broken toe anyways." This common expression is not only untrue, but sometimes harmful to the patients who suffer these types of injuries. A toe fracture which is not properly treated will likely lead to increased pain and swelling along with slower healing. The possible development of arthritis as well as the possible need for surgical procedures in the future are also concerns.
When a toe fracture is suspected, your first call should be to your podiatrists office. An x-ray is essential to establish the proper diagnosis and initiate the correct treatment. A toe injury needs to be differentiated from a metatarsal fracture, a break of the bone further back on the foot. This type of injury usually requires a hard cast and crutches. If a toe fracture is significantly displaced, the fracture may need to be reduced to a straight position. In severe cases, a surgical procedure using a pin or screw may be required. When a toe fracture heals in poor position, this may lead to chronic pain, early onset of arthritis and difficulty in shoe gear. Early intervention is essential to avoid the problems.
The early treatment of a toe fracture should be the same as the treatment of any fracture. The goal of early treatment is to reduce swelling and pain. We commonly see these patients a week or toe after they have suffered this type of injury. They have limped around on the foot thinking that nothing could be done, in the process causing tremendous swelling and pain to the area. This only leads to more suffering and slower healing times. It is always easier to prevent swelling from occurring in the first place, than it is to get rid of swelling once you have it. The essential treatments of this type of fracture are rest, ice, compression and immobilization. Your podiatrist may recommend a soft cast to immobilize the region, a bandaging technique which is superior to taping the toe to the adjacent toe in relation to applying compression to the area to reduce swelling and pain. A surgical shoe or CAM walker will help take pressure off the area to reduce swelling and speed healing. Staying off the foot as much as possible, applying ice to the area and taking oral anti-inflammatory pills like Motrin may also help reduce swelling and pain. When these treatments are initiated immediately after the injury, this allows patients to get back on their feet and back to their normal activities sooner rather than later.