Consequences of Improper Broken Toe Treatment
Some people say that “the doctor can’t do anything for a broken bone in the foot.” This is usually not true. In fact, if a fractured toe or metatarsal bone is not treated correctly, serious complications may develop. For example:
Treatment of Toe Fractures
- A deformity in the bony architecture, which may limit the ability to move the foot or cause difficulty in fitting shoes.
- Arthritis, which may be caused by a fracture in a joint (the juncture where two bones meet), or may be a result of angular deformities that develop when a displaced fracture is severe or has not been properly corrected.
- Chronic pain and deformity.
- Nonunion, or failure to heal, can lead to subsequent surgery or chronic pain.
Fractures of the toe bones are almost always traumatic fractures. Treatment for traumatic fractures depends on the break itself and may include these options:
Treatment of Metatarsal Fractures
- Rest. Sometimes rest is all that is needed to treat a traumatic fracture of the toe.
- Splinting. The toe may be fitted with a splint to keep it in a fixed position.
- Rigid or stiff-soled shoe. Wearing a stiff-soled shoe protects the toe and helps keep it properly positioned. Use of a postoperative shoe or bootwalker is also helpful.
- Buddy taping the fractured toe to another toe is sometimes appropriate, but in other cases, it may be harmful.
- Surgery. If the break is badly displaced or if the joint is affected, surgery may be necessary. Surgery often involves the use of fixation devices, such as pins.
Breaks in the metatarsal bones may be either stress or traumatic fractures. Certain kinds of fractures of the metatarsal bones present unique challenges.
For example, sometimes a fracture of the first metatarsal bone (behind the big toe) can lead to arthritis. Since the big toe is used so frequently and bears more weight than other toes, arthritis in that area can make it painful to walk, bend or even stand.
Another type of break, called a Jones fracture, occurs at the base of the fifth metatarsal bone (behind the little toe). It is often misdiagnosed as an ankle sprain, and misdiagnosis can have serious consequences since sprains and fractures require different treatments. Your foot and ankle surgeon is an expert in correctly identifying these conditions as well as other problems of the foot. Treatment of metatarsal fractures depends on the type and extent of the fracture and may include:
- Rest - Sometimes rest is the only treatment needed to promote healing of a stress or traumatic fracture of a metatarsal bone.
- Avoid the offending activity - Because stress fractures result from repetitive stress, it is important to avoid the activity that led to the fracture. Crutches or a wheelchair are sometimes required to offload weight from the foot to give it time to heal.
- Immobilization, casting or rigid shoe - A stiff-soled shoe or other form of immobilization may be used to protect the fractured bone while it is healing. Use of a postoperative shoe or bootwalker is also helpful.
- Surgery - Some traumatic fractures of the metatarsal bones require surgery, especially if the break is badly displaced.
- Follow-up care - Your foot and ankle surgeon will provide instructions for care following surgical or nonsurgical treatment. Physical therapy, exercises and rehabilitation may be included in a schedule for return to normal activities.