The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Did I Break My Toe?

Posted by on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012


Once upon a time I dropped a jar. It landed on my second toe, the edge of the bottom of the jar striking precisely at the base of the toe. This happened late at night, when you (or at least I) can be a little more prone to doing things like dropping jars on toes, so I just said, “Ouch,” ignored it, and moved on.

The next morning it still hurt. Not so much that I couldn’t walk on it, but enough that I noticed it. Was it swollen? A little–enough to be noticeable if you stared at it (which I did, quite a bit; ever get into a staring contest with a toe? Guess what–you lose. The toe has no eye and will always win), but not so much that you said, “Wow, look at that giant, swollen toe!”

I spent most of the weekend analyzing my toe and level of toe pain, wondering if I should go to the emergency room or not. I read everything I could find and kept thinking that my toe problem lay squarely in the middle, maybe broken, maybe bruised, maybe cracked. Is it broken or sprained? Does it hurt a lot or just a little? Is it deformed or slightly swollen? Paper or plastic? In the end, I decided that whatever it was, the pain wasn’t so bad that I could live with it. If it was broken, so be it, let it heal itself.

A few years later I fell while I was running, landing hard on my hands as I put them out to break my fall. When I got up, my hand appeared to be hanging off my wrist at an awkward angle. I looked at it and knew immediately it was broken. The lesson, I decided , was that if a bone is broken, you’ll know it.

Or so it seemed–broken toes are particularly difficult to self-diagnose. So let’s see if we can clear up when it’s time to see The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) and when it’s time to just put some ice on and rest:

  • My toe is swollen and it hurts so much I can’t put any weight on it. An toe will swell up if there are any number of minor injuries, as well as from a fracture. However, if your toe is so painful that you can barely take a step, then that’s a pretty good sign that there’s a break. Not a foolproof sign (see, I said this wasn’t easy), but still a very good indicator.
  • My toe is swollen, hurts a lot, and look, it’s bruised, too. Bruising is also another sign that there may be a break; a black toenail from after any kind of trauma (kicking something too hard, dropping a jar on your toe) means there may be bruising under the nail, with pooling blood giving it a blackened appearance. It’s sounding an awful lot like you need a visit to TThe Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).
  • I just put my pain free foot next to my painful foot and the difference is noticeable. Again, not a good sign, unless you’re hoping you have a broken toe. In which case, awesome sign.
  • I have a large gaping wound that shows some bone. Get emergency help. Now.
  • My toe feels unusually cold or numb. This is another sign that you need emergency help right now, without hesitation.

Okay, so let’s say you have decided that you need to see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) in order to get a clear diagnosis. What will happen?

The doctor may be able to tell if your toe is broken just by feeling it, but in some cases X-rays may be required. If it is broken, treatment may include:

  • You probably will be advised to ice the toe and keep it elevated to bring down the swelling.
  • If the toe is severely fractured, the podiatrist may decide to stabilize it with a splint or cast. Another option is “buddy taping,” where the injured to is taped to the strong, healthy toe next to it to protect it. Your podiatrist can show you how to do this.
  • In some cases, you may be required to walk on crutches for a period of time while you’re healing. Make sure you learn how to use crutches the right way to make this as easy as possible.

Most broken toes will heal fairly quickly and without any problems, unless it was an unusually complex fracture, or if the skin was broken, which leaves your toe vulnerable to infection. Otherwise, your toe will be healthy, happy, and back to worrying about more important things.

It’s always a tough call to decide whether you need to see a pro about a medical issue or whether it’s something minor that will heal on its own. But getting the right treatment early can make a big difference later. If you think you have a broken toe or any other foot issue, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.


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.