What You Can Do For a Broken Toe

Published: 05th July 2009
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You wake up in the middle of the night with nature calling. No need to turn on a light...you know the way. BAM! You walk, barefoot, right into the rocking chair! Just like a Loony Tunes cartoon, you see stars. As you hop back to bed, you can't get past the throbbing pain. You know you just broke your toe.

In the morning, you see your foot, with your toe swollen and bruised. Wearing a shoe is uncomfortable, maybe even impossible. You know you need to call a doctor. You pick up the phone and dial your podiatrist's office. Of course he's happy to work you in later in the afternoon.

Before your appointment, friends regale you with opinions. The most common of which is "There's nothing to do for a broken toe." Wondering if that's true, you think about cancelling your appointment. Should you? Is what you hear true?

What most people mean when they tell you that nothing can be done for a broken toe is that a cast is not applied. A cast, made of plaster or fiberglass, is the most recognizable treatment for a broken bone. If you don't cast it, you're not treating it, right? Wrong!

The great toe has two bones in it, with all others having three. Although small, they are classified as long bones, just like an arm or leg. When any bone, especially a long bone, breaks, it is most important to make sure that it is not displaced; otherwise it will not heal properly.

Once you get the x-ray taken, your podiatrist will be able to recommend treatment. If the bone is not displaced, it can be as simple as applying a "buddy splint." This type of splint simply attaches the broken toe to an adjacent digit. This helps to provide compression and stability.

If there is displacement, most of the time your podiatrist can realign the bones right in the office. It involves numbing the toe and using traction to get the bone in good position. In most severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Believe it or not, broken toes can become a medical emergency! Anyone who has poor circulation, such as a person with diabetes or peripheral artery disease (PAD), can end up with a spasm of the small arteries caused by the trauma, which can shut down the blood supply to the toes. This can be reversed if immediate care is sought. If left untreated for even one day, however, it can lead to an amputation.

It is clear that there is much that can be done, and must be done, to properly care for a broken toe. The sooner you receive care, the quicker the pain and swelling will be reduced. Don't let others talk you out of it, call your podiatrist right away.


Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist in private practice in Houston, TX. He is dedicated to maintaining the health and safety of the feet of his patients and educating the public on foot health. For more information about issues affecting people with diabetes, informative videos, and to order Dr. Schneider's FREE book, visit his website and his blog "Keep Your Feet Feeling Young."

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