The structure of the feet is more intricate than you might think. Bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all work together to allow us to do something we often take for granted: walk. And all these components must be in good working condition in order for us to do this simple act comfortably.
Achilles tendons overstretched? You got pain. Ligaments becoming overused? You got pain. Even a mere broken toe can keep you off your feet and hold you back from being active. And being that 19 out of the 26 bones in the feet are toe bones (phalanges) and metatarsal bones (the long bones in the midfoot), your chances of suffering a toe fracture are actually quite high!
When this happens, your best course of action will be to come to our office for proper diagnosis and treatment. Why? Let’s discuss this a bit further.
Understanding Toe Fractures
Simply put, a fracture is a break in the bone.
Fractures can be divided into two categories: acute fractures and stress fractures.
Acute fractures are more traumatic in nature. These breaks usually happen as a result of sudden physical trauma, such as stubbing the toe. (We all know that coffee table that always seems to be on the way, ready to snag a toe at its first opportunity – they can be more dangerous than you’d expect!)
Signs and symptoms of acute toe fractures include:
- A snapping or popping sound at the time of the break.
- Severe pain at the site of injury.
- Crooked or abnormal appearance of the toe.
- Bruising and swelling.
On the other hand, stress fractures are more subtle in nature. These come about as tiny, hairline cracks on the bone surface that are usually caused by repetitive stress. This is actually a common injury for athletes, especially those who ramp up their exercise routine too quickly without given their body time to adjust.
Stress fractures can also be caused by abnormal foot structure, deformities, or osteoporosis. Improper footwear may also lead to this painful condition.
Signs and symptoms of stress fractures include:
- Pain during or after normal activity.
- Pain that goes away when resting and returns when standing or during activity.
- Pain at the site of injury when touching it.
- Swelling, but no bruising.
Keep in mind that just because you are able to walk does not necessarily mean the toe is not broken. This notion of “if I can walk on it, it’s not broken” is simply not true, and a professional evaluation is definitely recommended to ensure the toe heals correctly.
Understanding the Importance of Treatment
You might have heard this before:
“There is nothing a doctor can do for broken toes.”
But the truth is, if a fractured toe or metatarsal bone is not treated correctly, serious complications can develop. And there is actually a lot we can do to put your toe back in place, and relieve any discomfort you may be experiencing. (But more on that in a bit.)
When you fail to get proper treatment for toe fractures, you risk:
- Developing deformities in the foot structure, which may end up limiting your ability to move the foot or cause difficulty in fitting shoes.
- Developing arthritis, which will also limit your ability to move the foot or cause difficulty in fitting shoes.
- Developing severe and/or chronic pain.
- Developing problems further up the kinetic chain, like ankle, knee, hip, and even back pain.
Even worse, once you finally do seek professional treatment, your condition may have become too severe to respond to conservative approaches, and surgery may be your only option to find the relief you need and deserve.
And we know you don’t want that, right?
Treating Toe Fractures
The good news is treating a toe fracture doesn’t have to be hard.
Treatment will depend on the type and extent of the fracture. We will first evaluate the severity of your condition and, based on what we find, we will likely recommend one or more of the conservative treatment options below:
- Rest. Sometimes rest is all that is needed to treat a fractured toe.
- Avoiding weight bearing. Crutches or a wheelchair are sometimes required to offload weight from the foot to give it time to heal.
- Splinting. The toe may be fitted with a splint to keep it in a fixed position.
- Rigid or stiff-soled shoes. Wearing stiff-soled shoes protects the toe and helps keep it properly positioned.
- Immobilization or casting. These may be used to protect the fractured bone while it is healing.
- Buddy taping. This method may sometimes be appropriate to help keep the toe properly aligned.
Now, if the break is badly displaced or if the joint has been affected, we will then start to consider surgery. This approach usually involves the use of fixation devices, such as pins, to hold the toe joint in place.
If that becomes the case for you, we will discuss in depth what surgery looks like and what you can expect from recovery. We will provide thorough instructions for care following your surgical treatment, which will likely include physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises that will help you return to normal activities as quickly and as safely as possible.
So if you suspect you have suffered a toe fracture – or any other type of foot fracture, for that matter – don’t hesitate to give us a call. We have two convenient office locations ready to serve you:
- Oklahoma City: (405) 947-8041
- Enid: (580) 237-3338
If you prefer to reach us electronically, simply fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will contact you shortly.