The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Know the Difference Between a Stubbed or Broken Toe

Posted by on Friday, July 26th, 2013

You’re rushing around the house, with your mind focused on a task you need to get done, when you cut a corner too close or step into a piece of furniture. The pain sensation rushes straight to your brain and out your mouth. “OW!” you instinctively cry out. This has happened to all of us at one point or another. The problem occurs when the toe begins to swell and turn purple. It can be difficult to tell a stubbed toe from a broken toe — especially considering that there are so many nerve endings in the feet, a basic toe stub can feel like a bus has just run over your foot.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Broken Toe?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you have just stubbed your toe on a hard, stationary object — or dropped something onto it:

  • Did you hear a cracking sound? (You may not always hear this, but if you did, it’s a tell-tale sign of a fracture.)
  • Do you have pain at the point of impact several hours later? (A stubbed toe will typically feel better within two hours.)
  • Does your toe look abnormal or crooked? (Stubbing a toe does not bend the shape of your toe.)
  • Is your toe swollen the next day? (A bruise is possible, but swelling should go down within a day on a stubbed toe.)
  • Is your nail discolored and bruised? (This can  be just a stubbed toe, but a broken toe will always display considerable bruising.)
  • Was there any blood? (Blood surrounding the nail could be a stubbed toe injury, but blood or bone protrusions are a break.)
  • Does the bruised, swollen toe feel better at rest but hurt with pressure? (This could be the sign of a hairline stress fracture.)

Should You See A Foot Doctor?

You should visit the emergency room if there are open wounds with bleeding and drainage (compound fracture); a cold, tingling numbness in the toes; blue or gray-colored skin  near the injury; or an obvious deformity. On the other hand, you should call a doctor if over-the-counter medication does not take care of the pain, if there is an open wound, if the bruising or bleeding causes you significant pain, or if you are having difficulty walking. Keep in mind that untreated fractures often lead to arthritis of the feet.

How Is A Broken Toe Treated, And How Long Does It Take To Heal?

It could be two and a half months before your toe is fully healed again. Resting, icing and elevating are good first steps to treat the fracture yourself. From there, a foot doctor can splint or tape the toe to keep it in a fixed position while it heals. Often, a post-op shoe is recommended to limit the possibility of a re-fracture and stabilize the foot during recovery. In rare cases, casting or surgery may be needed to put the toe back into place. In the future, you can benefit from wearing orthopedic slippers around the house to protect your feet from injury.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.