A broken toe can be very painful, but isn't usually serious and can often be treated at home. Most will heal in four to six weeks.
More severe breaks may take longer to heal and may need treatment in hospital.
A broken toe is sometimes called a 'fractured toe'.
This page covers:
Symptoms of a broken toe
A broken toe will usually be:
- extremely painful and tender
- red or bruised
- difficult to walk on
If the break is severe, the toe may stick out at an angle or the bone may poke through the skin.
It can be difficult to tell if a toe is broken or just badly hurt. Don't worry if you're not sure, as the treatment is usually the same for both.
How to treat a broken toe at home
The following tips can be used to care for a broken toe:
- Put a piece of cotton wool or gauze between the injured toe and the one next to it, and tape them together with a plaster or surgical tape.
- Keep your foot raised (ideally above the level of your heart) whenever you can during the first few days - for example, by resting it on cushions. This will help reduce swelling and pain.
- Hold an ice pack (try frozen peas wrapped in a towel) to the toe for 15-20 minutes every few hours for the first couple of days. Don't apply ice directly to the skin.
- Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long at first, and not putting weight on the toe until the pain starts to improve.
- Take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve the pain. Don't give aspirin to a child under 16 years of age.
- Wear sturdy shoes with a stiff sole that don't squash or bend the toe.
You can gradually return to your normal activities once you're able to wear shoes and walk around without discomfort.
When to see your GP
Check the toe every day and call your GP if:
- the pain gets worse or isn't relieved by ordinary painkillers - your GP may be able to prescribe a stronger painkiller
- the swelling or discolouration doesn't improve after a few days
- you have a wound or broken skin near the injured toe, which will need cleaning to prevent infection
- you have a condition that affects the nerves or blood circulation in your feet, such as diabetes or peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- you're still having problems, such as pain not improving or difficulty walking, after more than two to three weeks
When to go to hospital
- you have had a severe injury, such as your foot being crushed or a road traffic accident
- you think your big toe is broken
- your toes are cold and numb or tingling
- the skin on your toe has turned blue or grey
- the toe is severely deformed - for example, the toe is bent at an angle or the bone is sticking out of the skin
- severe pain under the nail, which may be the result of a collection of blood
Treatment for a badly broken toe
If your toe is badly broken, you may need:
- an X-ray of your foot to check if your toe is broken and how severe the break is
- a procedure to move any out of place bones back into the right position - a doctor can often do this with their hands (no cuts are needed) while your foot is numbed with local anaesthetic
- a procedure to drain blood from underneath the nail of the affected toe, or remove the nail completely if there's a lot of blood trapped under it
- a cast or a special wooden-soled shoe or boot to support your big toe if it's broken
- crutches so you can walk without putting weight on the toe
- any wounds cleaned, and possibly antibiotics or a tetanus jab if your vaccinations aren't up-to-date
If the break is particularly severe, you may need surgery to put the broken bones back into the correct position and fix them in place with special pins or screws.