What Are the Symptoms of a Broken Toe?

Discoloration under the toenail caused by pooling blood is one symptom of a broken toe.
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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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Of the 26 bones in the foot, there are 19 in the toes, also called phalanges. These bones are commonly broken through traumatic injury although stress fractures are also possible. When a person has a broken toe, a range of symptoms may occur with varying intensity. Broken toe symptoms can emerge immediately or they can appear months or years later. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking; sometimes the toe will have a misshapen appearance, the bone can protrude through the skin, and the nail can be severely damaged.

A broken toe is a fairly common complaint and should be evaluated by a medical professional. Broken toes can be caused by traumatic injury such as dropping a heavy object on the foot or stubbing the toe extremely hard. It is sometimes possible to hear the break when it occurs because it may make a cracking or snapping sound. The other type of fracture is much less common and is called a stress fracture. This type can occur from repetitive motion and usually takes the form of a hairline crack in the bone.

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When an individual has a broken toe, he or she may experience a range of symptoms which vary in intensity. A very common symptom is pain at the area of the fracture, the toe will usually hurt when touched, and the discomfort can spread to the surrounding area. There is also usually swelling present, which may be moderate or severe, and can cause shoes to feel uncomfortably tight. Bruising can appear within the first few hours or may not be noticeable until the next day. Particularly in the case of traumatic injuries, the bruising can be severe with vivid discoloration.

Other possible symptoms of a broken toe from a traumatic injury include nail damage and occasionally subungual hematoma. A subungual hematoma results when there is bleeding from the injury and a large amount of blood becomes trapped under the toenail; in some cases this may need to be drained via a small hole in the nail. It is also possible for there to be an open wound at the site of the broken toe, and in some cases the bone may protrude from the skin. In less severe cases where the bones are out of alignment, the toe will appear to have changed shape or it may stick out sideways. Some symptoms such as pain and swelling may linger for a long time, the toe's shape could be permanently changed, and arthritis can develop in the area years later.

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anon942900
Post 4

Is my toe broken? It is red, quite swollen, tingly and incredibly painful. It's shape seems normal apart from the swelling. It has gone yellowish underneath and I could bend it yesterday (when I did it) but I barely can now. It has made my foot numb and really really hurts. I don't know if I have broken it, and what can I do because I have to walk up six flights of stairs tomorrow!

I was running to the kitchen when I walked into a half shut door. It really hurt and there wasn't bleeding, but a cut was there and skin peeling off. It hurt. My whole foot went purple last night and I can't wear a normal sock because it hurts too much. The toe next to it hurts sometimes, but I can barely notice it next to my other foot. What shall I do? My parents don't think it's broken, but I am unsure. Please help!

clintflint
Post 3

@indigomoth - Actually, I've known people who brushed off a broken toe as bruising or a sprain, thinking it was something minor because it didn't hurt that much.

I think it's actually the longevity of the pain, rather than the amount, that people should look for. Even if it doesn't seem to hurt so bad they can't walk, if it hurts a lot and lasts a long time, it's better to get it checked out.

indigomoth
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - There was an interesting episode of House where he had to diagnose someone who was living in Antarctica by Skype. Since it was freezing cold, when he did the full exam of her body, he let her keep her socks on.

Of course, it turned out that she had broken toe bones that were infected and were causing her symptoms. She just didn't feel them because they were always so numb from the cold.

I'm not sure how realistic that actually is though. I don't know how numb the foot would have to be to mask a broken toe, without giving a person frostbite.

A broken toe really hurts a lot. Even if it's only cracked. It's not the kind of thing you don't notice.

lluviaporos
Post 1

Something that's important to be aware of is that if your feet are numb from cold, you might not even be aware that it's possible you've broken your toe.

One of my friends recently told me a story about how he once went swimming in a very cold river, and was banged up on some rocks, but kept swimming because it didn't hurt much. When he got out of the water, he realized he was bleeding heavily and that he had a really big hole in his foot. He hadn't noticed because his foot had gone numb.

I don't know if he'd broken any bones, but I'm sure that was a possibility.

You've really got to be extra careful when your feet are numb, to make sure that they are OK, since your body can't warn you if something is wrong.

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