Definition and Cause
Few injuries to the foot produce more pain than that of a fractured or broken toe. The mechanism or cause of a toe fracture seems embarrassingly obvious yet seemingly unavoidable. A sudden blow or stubbing of a toe against a heavy non-yielding object, an impact injury involving something dropping on top of a toe or that common injury of catching a small toe on the leg of a piece of furniture in your bedroom can each cause a fracture. The toe hurts high on the pain scale, swells and turns reddish pink, and after a day or so takes on a bluish bruised type of discoloration. If these signs are present and you just don't want to move that toe, then the chances are that you have a fracture.
It is at this point that we frequently find an area of public confusion regarding the treatment of toe fractures. Many of our patients and those not seeking medical care believe that toe fractures will heal by themselves and do not really need supervised medical attention. They tell us that there is nothing to do about a broken toe except tape it to the next toe. We disagree and would like to point out several facts on this issue.
1: Fractures of the toe should be seen professionally in order to evaluate the extent of the injury. In other words, not all fractures are the same and some will heal much faster than others while certain ones may not heal at all. A proper evaluation and management are necessary to ensure the best possible result.
2: Certain fractures may involve deviations or crooked positioning of the involved toe after the injury. These need to be set in proper alignment. Little toes that are angled outward can develop severe and painful corns. These should be treated early on by a specialist in order to prevent future disability and possible problems.
3: Proper treatment of a fractured toe should involve some level of immobilization splinting and support. Ignoring the injury and enduring the pain does not create an optimal environment for fracture healing.
In closing, these injuries occur with sudden onset, extreme pain, and obvious shoe wear difficulties. Proper evaluation, management, and periodic monitoring are recommended procedures for this problem.