Toe and Foot Dislocation

By Amelia Son, PTA, Site Coordinator

Toe Dislocation and Foot Dislocation Injuries

Toe dislocations are quite common and usually occur in contact sports or when jumping. On occasion, an injury to the big toe called “turf toe” can have the same signs and symptoms as a toe dislocation but is less severe and heals faster. While any of your toes can be dislocated, second toe dislocations are the most common. Due to stressful activity and often riskier activities, children and athletes are more likely to experience toe dislocations. People over the age of 65 are also at a higher risk of dislocations and take longer to recover than children. The following will discuss symptoms of toe dislocations, how it is diagnose, and the treatment of by a medical professional.

Graphic showing the bones of the foot. dislocated toe is a foot dislocation

Diagram of the anatomy of the foot.

Anatomy of the Toe

Each toe has 3 parts called phalanges, except your big toe, which only has two. Dislocations occur at the joint where the phalanges join. The three joints are:

  1. Distal interphalangeal joint, the outermost joint.
  2. Proximal interphalangeal joint, the middle joint– not in the big toe.
  3. Metatarsophalangeal joint, where the toe meets the foot.

How Do You Know if You Have a Dislocated Toe?

crooked second toe is also called hammer toe

Crooked second toe

The quick answer is to look for these signs and symptoms of dislocation are as follows:

  • A crooked appearance of the toe.
  • Bruising and swelling in the area.
  • Pain with moving the toe or difficulty moving the toe.
  • Numbness in the area.
  • Severe pain in the toe.

A dislocation can occur at any of these joints in the foot with the proper injury.  There are two types of a dislocated toe, called pure dislocation and subluxation.

  • A pure dislocation is when all the bones are still intact by not being in their normal anatomical position.
  • A subluxation is a partial dislocation, and while the bones are out of position, they are not completely separated.

Diagnosis and Treatment of a Foot or Toe Dislocation

JOI Physicians can diagnose a toe dislocation

JOI Physicians can diagnose a toe dislocation

Diagnosing a dislocated toe is simple and begins with an exam of the toe. Your physician may do gentle movements to feel for dislocation or a break. They will decide if the joint feels unstable and then do an x-ray to confirm and make sure there are no other broken bone issues. While it is usually not necessary for a toe, they may order an angiogram to ensure there is no damage to blood vessels. If the MD does diagnose the toe as dislocated, there are two options for repositioning the joint. They are closed, or open reduction and are described below;

  • Closed reduction: The joint will reposition without surgery. This procedure is in the office, and the MD may give an injection for pain.
  • Open reduction: The joint is repositioned with surgery in the operating room.

After either reduction, some splint or footwear will help the patient to keep the toe in alignment and avoid further injury. Often, the MD will suggest using crutches to keep weight off the injured toe as well.

Recovery after reduction is simple and often fast. Most people can get back to their normal activities of daily living within a week. It might be up to 8 weeks of recovery time if the dislocation was more severe and broken bones. To help with recovery and avoid re-injury, you should tape your dislocated toe to the next toe to stabilize it.

Related Articles:

Ankle dislocation

Bones in the Toes

Ligaments Of The Foot


Ligaments in the foot/

Bones in the toes/

Foot anatomy/

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Author: Amelia Son, PTA

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