Broken Toe and Metatarsal Fracture: symptoms & treatment options

Updated 12/11/2017
Metatarsal fracture, University foot and ankle institute

Each toe is made up of 2 or 3 tiny bones that connect to the five long metatarsal bones of the foot. These very fragile bones support us with every step, so it’s no surprise that toe and metatarsal injuries are so common.

 

A metatarsal or toe break is also called a fracture and can be divided into two categories, traumatic breaks and stress fractures.

University Foot and Ankle Institute’s foot and ankle specialists have decades of experience in the treatment in trauma of the foot and ankle. They have the latest technologies at their fingertips for the most accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment for the best possible outcome.

Acute Toe and Metatarsal Breaks

Traumatic toe breaks (also called acute fractures) are usually the result of a stubbing injury. The toe typically hits the side of a table or solid object and is rotated sideways causing a fracture to occur. A break can also occur if a heavy object is dropped on the toe.

Symptoms of an Acute Toe Break

The symptoms of a traumatic toe break vary. Some patients report hearing a “crack” at the time of the break and the pain is generally localized at the place of impact. The fractured toe may appear to be crooked and bruising or swelling can occur the day following the injury

 

Stress Fractures of the Toe and Metatarsal Bone

A stress fracture is usually an overuse-type of injury that produces a small crack in the bone. It is due to either normal amounts of stress to a weakened bone, or abnormal amounts of stress to a normal bone. Often patients report having increased the intensity of their exercise or recently begun a new workout regimen. This can put excess stress on a region of the foot or ankle resulting in a small crack or stress fracture. The stress fracture may also be the result of osteoporosis or a bone deformity in the foot.

What are the symptoms of a stress fracture?

Patients often report that pain is worsened with increased or repetitive activities. There is typically localized swelling in the area of the fracture that becomes worse with activity. There may also be slight burning from the swelling, as well as tenderness in the area of stress fracture.

 

What Can be Done for a Broken Toe?

Some people think “doctors can’t do anything for a broken toe” but this is simply not true. While many toe breaks can be treated simply, if they are not properly attended to, complications can occur. These include:

  • Arthritis: Yes, a broken toe can develop arthritis if the bones are displaced as a result of the break and not properly realigned. This is especially true if the break involves a joint
  • Chronic pain
  • Failure to heal: Not only may it not get better, it can also continually worsening pain.
  • Deformity

Broken Toe Treatment

The treatment for stress fractures and acute toe breaks is generally the same. They can include:

  • Splinting: This keeps the toe in the proper position by taping it to adjacent toe (also called “buddy taping”).
  • A protective or stiff soled shoe: This can help keep the toe properly aligned.
  • Re-alignment

 

In rare cases, the toe may be dislocated and need to be re-aligned before it can be splinted. In these cases, the toe is numbed and the bones are re-set. X-rays are taken to ensure proper realignment of the bone.

Metatarsal Fracture Treatment

Most metatarsal fractures will heal without surgery, using conservative methods. A walking cast/boot or protective footwear may be prescribed to keep the bones in a stable position while they heal. Taping or strapping may also be used for added stability and support.

 

Metatarsal fractures which are displaced or which have a large gap between the bones, may need to be surgically put back in place. Screws, pins, and/or plates hold the fracture together as they heal. Most metatarsal fractures treated with surgery involve a 6 to 8 week recovery period in a walking cast/boot.

Jones Fracture: Fracture of the fifth metatarsal

It is important to note that there is an area of the fifth metatarsal, which is notorious for non-healing. This fracture, also called a "Jones Fracture," may require surgery due to the low blood supply to this particular area of the 5th metatarsal. The bones are fixed with a screw to hold in place while they heal. Typical recovery for a Jones fracture includes a cast and non-weight bearing for eight to ten weeks.

 

Learn more about Jones Fractures here.

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