Broken Toe

By Genesis Villanueva, PT

Overview of a Broken Toe

Have you recently dropped something on your toe or stubbed it? Do you know how to tell if you have a broken toe?  The most commonly broken toe is the big toe or great toe, but this could occur to any digits.

Broken Bone in the foot

anatomy of the foot

Symptoms of a Broken Toe

A broken toe may include the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain.
  • Discoloration or bruises around the toe.
  • Redness.
  • Swelling.
  • Deformity.
  • Difficulty Walking.

If you had an incident and are having these symptoms, the first step would be to use the RICE protocol. You should rest, ice, elevate, and take pain medications (NSAIDs) as indicated. If these symptoms do not resolve within a few days or if your injury hinders your ability to walk or wear shoes, then you should consult a physician to address your condition.


Possible complications from untreated toe:

  • There are higher risks of developing an infection in the bone if the skin is broken.
  • Some bad infections could lead to the need to amputate the toe.
  • Osteoarthritis is more likely to occur if an untreated fracture extends into one of the joints of the toe that was injured.
  • Permanent malformation of the toe.
  • Reduced ROM (range of motion).
  • Long-term pain with weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, standing, and exercising.

Diagnosing a Broken Toe

When you consult your physician, they will most likely perform an X-ray to look at the bone and see any fractures visually. The physician will also perform a physical exam to check for proper blood flow and nerve signals.

Treatment of a Broken Toe

  • Medications: A person can typically manage the pain from a broken toe with over-the-counter pain killers such as naproxen sodium (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). If pain is more severe, the physician may prescribe stronger medications that must be filled at the pharmacy.
  • Reduction: If the toe is broken so that the bone and does not align properly for healing, the physician will need to reposition the bone(s) manually. Most of the time, surgery is not necessary.
  • Surgery: Surgical interventions may be necessary if multiple broken fragments or the tendons or nerves were damaged in the injury. This typically includes the insertion of pins, screws, or plates to help maintain the proper positioning for healing.


  • Buddy Taping: Taping the broken toe to the adjacent digit can act as a splint to reduce unnecessary movement and allow the bone to heal.
  • Stiff bottomed or post-surgical shoes: Keep the toe in a neutral position and decrease excessive flexion during the healing process.
  • Casting: If the broken toe was severe enough, casting might be necessary to prevent movement when walking or standing.

Physical Therapy

Typically rehabilitation is not necessary for the majority of cases. Physical therapy for a broken toe would include interventions/exercises to improve ROM, progressing weight-bearing tolerance, and working towards proper form with walking, jogging, or running.

To schedule for physical therapy at JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.

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By: Genesis Villanueva PT

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