Injuries to the feet can be a common occurrence, with toe fractures being one of them. The feet have a complex structure consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue that make them susceptible to a wide range of injuries. Among the bones in the foot, 19 are toe bones (phalanges) and metatarsal bones (the long bones in the midfoot). Fractures in these bones can prove very painful and impair mobility. Foot and ankle surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of these injuries and should be consulted promptly in such cases.
A fracture is a break in the bone, which can be classified into two categories: traumatic and stress fractures. Traumatic fractures are caused by direct impact or blows to the bone, and they can either be displaced or non-displaced. A displaced fracture is a fracture where the bone changes its position or dislocates from its normal place. Symptoms of such fractures include a sound heard at the time of the break, severe pain at the site of the injury that might go away after a few hours, a crooked or abnormal appearance of the toe, and swelling and bruising the next day. Consequently, contrary to the belief that one can still walk on a broken foot, seeing a foot and ankle specialist is essential.
Stress fractures manifest as tiny hairline fractures caused by repetitive stress, which can afflict athletes who increase their running mileage too rapidly or individuals with abnormal foot structures, deformities, or osteoporosis. Inappropriate footwear can also cause stress fractures. Symptoms of stress fractures include pain during or after normal activities, relief from pain when resting and reoccurring when exercising, pinpoint pain on touching, and swelling without bruising. If left untreated, stress fractures can lead to severe medical conditions and require medical attention to heal correctly.
If fractured toes or metatarsal bones are not treated, deformity in the bony structure of the foot may develop, leading to limited ability to move the foot and challenges fitting shoes. Arthritis could also result from fractures in a joint or angular deformities which could worsen when a displaced fracture remains uncorrected. Chronic pain and deformity, as well as the failure to heal correctly, requiring subsequent surgery or chronic pain, are other possible consequences of inadequately treated fractures.
Treatment of toe fractures, mostly traumatic, depends on the extent of the break and may include rest, splinting, buddy taping, or wearing a rigid or stiff-soled shoe to keep the toe in place accurately. Surgery may be necessary where the break is dislocated or the joint is affected. In metatarsal fractures, which may be either stress or traumatic, the extent of the injury, including factors like location, determines treatment. Rest might be enough to heal the injury, avoiding activities that caused stress fractures, and wearing a stiff-soled shoe or a cast to protect the fractured bone might be appropriate. Serious cases, especially if the bone break is severe, require surgery, and follow-up care with a foot and ankle surgeon to ensure proper healing is essential.
In conclusion, fractures to the feet, and in particular the toes and metatarsal bones, can be painful and impair mobility, and although sometimes rest may suffice, evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is always recommended. Dr Gilbert Huang DPM is an experienced foot and ankle surgeon providing specialized care for injuries, including but not limited to toe fractures. If you notice any of the symptoms discussed above or experience any foot pain, no matter how mild, make an appointment to see a foot and ankle surgeon promptly.