The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Out of Place: All About Dislocated Toes

Posted by on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012


Toes are just teensy parts of our body–even that so-called “big toe,” but they sure can get into a lot of trouble. For example, toes can be fractured, sprained, or dislocated.

Dislocated? Do you mean I can lose a toe?!! No–well, you can lose a toe but that usually involves cutting it off. A dislocated toe means that a bone in your toe has been knocked out of place. A fracture is when a bone is broken, and a sprain is when ligaments are overstretched.

What could cause a toe to dislocate? Toe bones are hardy little buddies who don’t naturally want to move out of place, so it takes a pretty strong blow to dislocate them. If you play any sport where your foot is vulnerable to direct impact or collision, then your toe is at risk for dislocation. Additionally, if you have a severe toe sprain, a bone may also be dislocated.

How do I know if my toe is dislocated, not broken or sprained? Let’s compare and contrast the symptoms for a sprained, broken, or dislocated toe:

  • Sprained toe Throbbing pain; swelling; stiffness; limited mobility; some bruising. Your toe will hurt, but you can put weight on it.
  • Broken toe Burning pain; numbness; bruising; swelling; stiffness; extremely low mobility; bleeding as indicated by a blackened toenail (blood pools under the nail plate), possible visible deformity. The pain will be too intense to put weight on it.
  • Dislocated toe Pain; numbness; swelling; bruising; likely visible deformity. You’ll feel extreme pain if you try to put pressure on the toe or attempt to flex it.

As you can see, these injuries all share a number of symptoms, meaning they can be difficult to diagnose. A sprain is the easiest one to recognize–if you can put weight on your toe after some kind of traumatic event, that means it’s probably just sprained. If it doesn’t seem like it’s getting better after a day or two, though, then you may just have a very high pain threshold and really, really guessed wrong.

If your injury seems like it falls into one of these categories, as likely indicated by an inability to put weight or pressure on the toe, then you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for an accurate diagnosis.

Okay, I suspect I have a dislocated toe. What now? As noted above, you need to see a podiatrist or go to an emergency room for proper treatment. If you can’t see anyone immediately, keep weight off your foot, put ice on it, and elevate it. Try to see someone within six hours, though, or you risk having the toe heal improperly.

I looked online and found instructions for how to pop my toe bone back into place. Should I do this before going to the podiatrist? NO!! And again, NO!!! Unless you are a medical professional or, perhaps, you’re out camping in some distant mountain location and are a survivalist with some medical training. Have a professional “reduce” or put your toe back into place; if you try it yourself and do it wrong, you’ll just make things worse.

All right–though it would be cool to say I popped my dislocated toe back into place. Go to medical school.

What happens after my toe is reduced or put back into place? The podiatrist may tape the toe in question to the next toe in order to help it heal straight. You will probably be advised to ice and keep your toe elevated over the next few days. Your podiatrist will also give you some physical therapy exercises to do after about seven days to help restore your toe to full mobility. All in all, a dislocated toe won’t take nearly as long to heal as a fractured toe.

Our toes are small but we need them to be healthy and happy to keep our big bodies balanced and mobile. If you have a toe injury, don’t ignore it–get it checked out!



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera 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.