Medically Reviewed by Dr. Rachel N. Verville

March 14, 2023

Man in pain from a broken toe

While they may be among the smallest body parts, toes are essential. Your toes aid in balance and walking, helping you move properly and perform everyday functions. When one of your toes sustains an injury, it can lead to intense discomfort and impact your ability to walk. 

Several injuries can happen to the toes, and the most common are stubs and fractures. While a stubbed toe is uncomfortable, it is far less serious than a broken toe. 

A stubbed toe usually heals on its own. In contrast, a broken toe needs professional treatment in order to heal correctly. If left untreated, it can lead to significant issues.

Both stubbed toes and broken toes can occur for the same reasons: dropping something heavy on the foot, walking into a hard object, or getting stepped on. Since both have the same causes, how do you know whether you broke your toe or just stubbed it?

6 Signs Your Toe May Be Broken

Several types of injuries can lead to symptoms in an affected toe. Knowing which signs and symptoms indicate a broken toe is vital when it comes to seeking prompt treatment. The following are the six most common symptoms that accompany a broken toe:

1. Discomfort

The biggest indicator of a broken toe is intense discomfort. Stubs and other injuries can lead to tenderness in the toe, but a broken toe will produce more pronounced, significant discomfort. 

These feelings will be more intense when you walk or flex your toes. Some patients also feel tingling in their broken toe, in addition to discomfort. This occurs when the broken bone pinches or compresses the nerves that run throughout your toe.

2. Swelling

Another symptom of a broken toe is swelling. A simple stubbing will not produce swelling in the toe. If your toe has suddenly swelled in size, it is very likely that there is a break. The best way to determine whether your toe is swollen is by placing your two feet together and comparing the size of the toe to the corresponding toe on the other foot. 

3. Color

In some cases, a broken toe will change color. This is more likely to occur the longer you delay seeking treatment. If your toe appears red, blue, or yellow, it might be broken. These changes in color typically develop due to swelling and circulation issues caused by the break.

4. Shape

In addition to swelling and discoloration, a broken toe can also begin to change shape. The toe may become rounder and thicker in appearance. 

With some breaks, the toe can actually shift in direction. Instead of pointing outward, it may tilt in one direction. This indicates a severe break that needs medical attention to restore the natural shape and direction of the toe.

5. Movement

Another sign that your toe may be broken is a change in movement. If you cannot independently move your toe, it may be broken. If you manually move the toe with your fingers and notice that it feels very lax, or you can feel the bone shifting inside, it is most likely broken.

6. Duration of Symptoms

One of the biggest things to consider when struggling with any of these symptoms is how long they have lasted. Since a broken toe cannot heal on its own, symptoms will not get better over time. In many cases, they continue to progress in severity or remain at a moderate level. 

If signs of swelling, discomfort, and more have lasted for several days to weeks, it is a strong indicator that the toe is broken.

Treating a Broken Toe

What happens if you do have a broken toe? Treating a broken toe relies heavily on properly stabilizing the broken bone. A doctor might apply a small splint to the toe to provide support. In many cases, the doctor will strap the broken toe to a neighboring toe for added support. 

It is important that you do not walk directly on a broken toe or apply weight to the area. This will hinder healing. For this reason, many people use crutches while their toe is healing.

For severe breaks, a minor surgical procedure may be necessary to keep the toe healthy and functioning. This involves placing a small screw and rod within the toe to hold the broken bone in its proper placement.

What to Do If You Suspect a Broken Toe

If you notice one or more of the symptoms above, it is very likely that you have a broken toe. When left untreated, a broken toe will not heal properly, and you could face serious issues down the line. 

An untreated fracture can impact the appearance and function of the toe. In severe cases, it can affect your ability to walk or lead to arthritis. When this happens, surgery is often needed to repair the toe as best as possible. To have an ideal outcome, seeking prompt treatment is essential. 

If you suspect that you have broken a toe, you should seek an urgent appointment with a podiatrist. Dr. Rachel N. Verville at RNV Podiatry provides effective treatment options for broken toes. RNV Podiatry works with patients throughout Frisco and the Dallas Metro area, helping get you back on your feet again.