How does a broken toe feel?

The broken toe

What is a broken toe?

The Broken toe (Toe fracture) is one of the more common broken bones. Broken toes can be the result of violence, especially when bumping into hard objects or dropping a heavy object. It is not uncommon for it to be a sports injury. When the toe is broken, the pulling of the tendons that attach it often leads to a noticeable deformation of the toe. The treatment is carried out with a stabilization by means of a bandage or a special shoe insert, in complicated cases an operation is carried out. Fixation with foreign material such as wire or a screw is not necessary for every operation of a toe fracture. It may also be sufficient to just bring the fragments into the correct position and then apply a bandage.


Possible causes of a broken toe

Toes can break due to external influences. A broken toe can result from hitting a hard edge or surface. An apt expression is Nightwalker fracture, because while half asleep everyone has probably hit a door or a door frame, a protruding chair leg or a household appliance lying around. Toe bones also often break when a heavy object falls and the foot cannot be pulled away in time. A toe fracture is also conceivable in an accident or during sports. Again and again I hear from football players and other athletes who have broken their toes.

Symptoms of a broken toe

A toe fracture can affect one or more toes, from the little toe to the big toe. The toes each consist of three limbs (bones), except for the big toe, which has two bones. The most common fracture is the bone on the base of the toe. The injury hurts badly at first. It comes to one Swelling and bruising, often with bluish-black discoloration of the toe. Deformation of the small part of the body is often seen, often caused by the pulling tendons that attach to the toe bones. Mobility can be reduced, and patients often spare the affected foot.

So the signs of a broken toe can be:

  • Bruising or redness
  • Swelling and pain
  • Difficulty walking

Broken toe diagnosis

After taking a short anamnesis (examination interview, e.g. on the question of the cause of the injury), the doctor takes a look at the foot. The finding often clearly indicates the fracture (break) of the toe. The break point can usually be seen clearly on the X-ray. The X-ray also shows the doctor in which way the bone fragments are shifted against each other.

Differential diagnosis

The appearance of the toe with a broken bone there can be similar to that of other injuries and diseases. In the absence of an accident, it can also be a circulatory disorder (arterial occlusion, PAOD) or inflammation (phlegmon).

When to the doctor

There are clear signs of a broken toe or complications. In such a case, patients should not hesitate to go to a hospital:

  • the toe is visibly broken (angle is no longer the same)
  • A snapping, grinding, or popping noise was heard or felt at the time of the injury
  • severe pain occurs
  • the toe or foot feels strange (tingling or loss of sensation)
  • the injury has created a large cut or wound
  • the bone protrudes from the toe

Treatment of a toe fracture

The broken toe can be treated with or without surgery, depending on the findings. The operation is mainly used for fractures on the base of the big toe or for open fractures of a toe. Much more often, a conservative (non-surgical) approach is chosen, usually even with comminuted fractures of the small toes.

Conservative treatment

In most cases, stabilization of the toe bone is sufficient. A special soothing bandage that is worn for a few weeks can be used for this purpose. The toe support can even be integrated into the shoe sole. Often the broken toe is even attached to the neighboring toe with a bandage so that it supports it.

In the case of displaced fractures, the bone pieces must first be set up in the correct position. The doctor usually uses a local anesthetic for this.

The swelling can be relieved by carefully cooling and elevating the leg. Medicines such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, for example ibuprofen, diclofenac) and ointments can be used against the pain of a toe fracture.


The operation, which can often also be done under local anesthesia, first consists of setting up the fragments. Then the bone is provided with a wire so that the broken parts can stick together and grow together (osteosynthesis). Other materials such as screws or plates can also be used, especially if the big toe is broken. As a rule, foreign material is removed after a few weeks or months.

The surgery can lead to complications in some cases. Infection and wound healing problems are among the most important complications that can arise from the fracture toe procedure.

Prognosis for a broken toe

In the vast majority of cases, a broken toe can be successfully treated and restored to its original condition within a few weeks. As a rule, the toe can then be loaded normally and no longer shows any functional restrictions or pain. However, even with this fracture, it cannot be ruled out that the result is unsatisfactory and that further treatment measures must be carried out.