The Road to Recovery: Healing a Broken Toe

healing a broken toe

Image Source: Lloyd de la Cruz

Healing a broken toe is a time-consuming process where patience, rest, and early treatment play a major role.

Though stubbed or broken toes are a common minor injury, they often result in extreme pain, limited regular movements, and reduced daily functioning. It’s also difficult to identify a broken toe at home as initial symptoms may not reveal the extent of the damage. Broken toes are also notoriously bad at healing properly on their own without any kind of intervention. Broken toe healing time also varies depending on which toe you’ve injured (big toes take longer) and other factors.

Therefore, seeking immediate medical attention after sustaining a broken toe injury is necessary to ensure a swift healing process.

Having said that, it’s important to remember that while timely diagnosis and proper broken toe treatment can initiate broken toe recovery, ultimately it’s up to Mother Nature to take its course. You can help move things along by taking proper rest and adopting recommended methods for broken toe care.

Signs Of A Broken Toe

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Skin discoloration
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Marked differences in the appearance of the injured toe from the same toe on the opposite foot

These symptoms may vary from person to person. Contrary to popular myth, you may be able to bend your broken toe or even walk on it.

First Aid For A Broken Toe

What should you do in the immediate aftermath of a broken or stubbed toe? To alleviate the symptoms of intense pain and swelling that follow a broken toe accident, here are some home remedies to employ before you can go see your foot and ankle specialist doctor.

  • Elevate the injured foot: Keeping your injured foot elevated would reduce the pressure on your toes, providing a degree of immediate relief. It will reduce swelling, ease pain, and may also speed up the broken toe recovery time. To attain the best elevation, raise your foot higher than the heart level when you’re lying down.
  • Apply ice packs: Ice packs provide instant relief against pain and swelling. Keep them on the injured area for 20-25 minutes, every 2-3 hours, for the first few days of the injury. Don’t apply bare ice as it can give you ice burns.
  • Compress the forefoot: Wrap your injured forefoot lightly in crepe or other soft bandage. It’ll provide support to the injured foot and help in your toe fracture treatment.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects: Don’t lift heavy objects while you are recovering from a broken toe injury. It can cause all sorts of complications in your back, knee, and ankle.
  • Wear supportive shoes: During your broken toe recovery period, only wear shoes that are open at the front and have a wide heel, or consult with your podiatrist to explore orthotic shoe options.
  • Use OTC pain medication: Pain medicines like ibuprofen or paracetamol can be used to seek relief from pain and swelling. For a broken big toe, you may have to explore high dosages of pain meds but only do it after consulting with your foot and ankle doctor.
  • Rest! Rest as much as you can for your toe fracture healing to proceed perfectly. Not putting pressure on your feet, assisted walking, and keeping the injured foot elevated will help more than any pain medicine.

Visit a Foot Care Specialist

To gain a better understanding of the nature and extent of your broken toe injury, schedule a visit to a foot and ankle specialist near you. A trained podiatrist will physically examine the injury and set up further tests to learn the extent of damage and prescribe the most effective toe fracture treatment methodology.

• Physical examination

A physical, visual exam of the toe will help clarify a lot of things for the doctor. During your clinic visit, your foot and ankle doctor will physically examine the foot and ask you about the fracture symptoms you are experiencing.

They will also take your history, compare your normal foot with the injured one to examine the differences, and physically inspect the wound by feeling around it. They’ll be looking for any tenderness, bruising, or abrasions. They will also inspect if there’s any numbing in the area or if the skin has experienced any discoloration.

Ask as many questions as you have about your injury to the doctor. Tell them if you’ve noticed any degree of loss of feeling or sensation in your toe. If you feel any tingling, it could be a sign of nerve damage. Bring it to the attention of your doctor.

• Technical examination

These include X-rays, MRIs, and other tests to eliminate or confirm any doubts your doctor has about the injury after the physical examination.

For example, if they suspect a fracture or a complicated injury, they may order an X-ray to study the wound in more depth. MRIs can also be prescribed for injuries that often don’t show up on regular X-rays.

If you’re starting to worry because your doctor has asked for all these tests, take heart. Most of these tests are standard procedures for broken toe treatments. They help your doctor arrive at the exact issue that’s causing all the problems and prescribe the most efficient treatment strategies.

• Buddy taping

Standard treatment for a broken toe is called buddy-taping. You use the healthy toe as a support for the broken toe and tape them together.

Your foot doctor will use medical tape and secure the two toes together, with the healthy toe functioning as a splint for the broken one. This prevents the broken toe from moving too much, provides it the much-needed support it needs, and ensures the beginning of swift healing.

When buddy-taping the two toes together, always make sure to keep a gauze or foam between them. Skin-to-skin contact can lead to irritation and further complicate the matter.

• Toe surgery

A toe surgery is needed when the broken toe has suffered extensive damage or has healed poorly. Poor recovery often results in complications that require surgical intervention.

A badly recovered broken big toe, for example, often leads to arthritis that can only be corrected through big toe arthritis surgery.

Broken toe surgery also means a longer healing time, and thus more care and patience during that period. So, follow all the care instructions your foot doctor gives you, and show up to all the follow-up appointments.

Your doctor may also ask you to walk with crutches or wear a walking cast. This provides stability to the injured toe and reduces the pressure on it during the recovery period.

Broken Toe Healing Recovery Time

The length of a broken toe healing time depends on several factors. Which of the five toes has been injured, the age of the patient, whether a broken toe surgery has been performed, and prior medical history, are some of them.

Therefore, coming up with a uniform timeline for all kinds of toe fracture treatments may not be possible.

Typically, however, the broken big toe takes longer to heal than a small toe fracture. Here are a few approximations to give you an idea:

  • Average broken toe recovery time: 6 weeks
  • Small toe recovery time: 4-5 weeks
  • Big toe recovery time: 7 weeks onwards

Should You Let a Broken Toe Heal on Its Own?

While most broken toes heal with time and your care and patience play a critical role, doing it without consulting a doctor first is a recipe for complications.

Always visit a doctor to get your injury examined and find out the best ways to ensure perfect broken toe recovery.

Here’s a brief list of reasons why ignoring a doctor’s visit after a toe injury is a bad idea.

  • Left unexamined and untreated, the broken bones may heal incorrectly.
  • Incorrect healing can lead to limited mobility.
  • It can also lead to difficulty in walking and may even contribute to permanently altered gait.
  • Poor healing means your shoes won’t fit comfortably.
  • Incorrectly healed bones almost always require surgery, contributing to more pain and prolonged recovery.
  • Even if no major complications develop, your broken toe healing time may take longer.
  • Poor healing may result in complications such as ankle, knee, or back issues.
  • It could lead to chronic arthritis.

Foods That Accelerate Recovery

To improve your broken toe care, a healthy diet can always speed things up.

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin K-rich foods
  • Zinc
  • Turmeric
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Anti-inflammatory fats
  • Water and fluids
  • Collagen supplements

Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, refined sugar, and sodium. Grains should also be reduced in the post-recovery diet.

What Else Can Help?

To accelerate your broken toe healing, rest is the best thing to do. Mix that with light movement that doesn’t stress the injury but also facilitates the range of movement in the forefront.

Wear supportive footwear and use assistive walking devices recommended by your podiatrist.

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