What Is a Stubbed Toe?

Elevation may help reduce pain and swelling of a stubbed toe.
A stubbed toe occurs when a toe of the foot comes into painful contact with a solid object.
Applying ice to a stubbed toe may help relieve pain and discomfort.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2014
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A stubbed toe is not usually a serious injury, but it can be painful one. It occurs when one of the toes of the foot is jammed into a solid object, thereby causing a strain or sprain on the tissues in that toe. Toes generally have high concentrations of nerve endings, which means the pain will feel quite significant. It is best to treat the affected area with the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Minor occurrences of a stubbed toe will heal quickly, usually lasting no more than a few days.

Each joint in the foot is connected by tissues called ligaments. Muscles can also be concentrated near joints, and cartilage is present between each set of bones. Any of these tissues can be damaged when a stubbed toe occurs, though the level of damage is usually fairly minor. If the toe is jammed hard enough, more serious injuries, such as a fracture may occur. This is different than a stubbed toe because a fracture means the bone within the toe has cracked. This will be more painful and that pain will last a much longer time. Most fractures will heal on their own given enough time and rest, though more serious fractures may need to be addressed by a doctor.

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It is important to immobilize the toe should a painful stubbed toe occur. When the toe is stubbed and ligaments or muscles are sprained or strained, excess movement can worsen the injury and prevent adequate healing. Immobilizing the toe with a splint will prevent movement and allow the tissues to heal on their own; this splinting is usually done by using medical tape to secure one toe to the digit next to it. If this is not possible, special splints may be available to immobilize just that one toe.

The RICE treatment promotes faster healing as well. Resting the injury allows tissues to repair themselves, and icing the affected area can dull the pain and help reduce painful swelling. Compression can also help reduce swelling and inflammation, and it can even help stimulate blood flow to the affected area, which will in turn promote faster healing. Elevation, too, helps reduce swelling and pain. The RICE treatment is appropriate first aid for the injury; over the course of the next few days or weeks, it will be important to continue to rest the affected area. Icing can be continued periodically if swelling and pain persist.

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shell4life
Post 4

I felt a little silly going to my doctor for stubbed toe treatment, but my mother insisted that it might be broken. It had turned purple, and it did appear to be a little crooked.

It also had swelled overnight. The pain didn't seem to be going away.

It turned out that I did have a broken toe. The doctor wrapped it up and put on a splint, and I had to take it easy for awhile.

She also told me that after I had recovered, I might want to consider wearing slippers around the house instead of walking around barefoot. She said that most toe injuries occur within the home, because that is the one place that people feel comfortable enough to go barefoot all the time.

JackWhack
Post 3

It's amazing how hurting one little part of your body can affect your whole being. Stubbed toe pain causes me to clench my fists, scream with my mouth, and hobble around with my legs.

The pain is most intense right after it happens. I've never had a severely damaged toe from stubbing before, but in the moments immediately following the accident, the pain feels very serious. It usually only takes about five or ten minutes for the throbbing and pain to pass, though.

While I'm reeling from the pain, I have to sit down. Toes sure do have sensitive nerves, and they can cause such a big reaction!

wavy58
Post 2

@Oceana – As long as your toe isn't actually broken, treating it at home with ibuprofen or even acetaminophen is fine. I usually take acetaminophen for mine.

However, if your toe has changed colors drastically and you can't bend it, you might have a broken toe. Then, you will need to see a doctor.

Over-the-counter pain medicine will not be enough to ease the pain of a broken toe. You will need prescription strength pain killers for this, as well as a splint.

Oceana
Post 1

Can you treat a stubbed toe with ibuprofen or anything to help with the pain? I've had some really bad ones before, but I've always been afraid to take anything, because I didn't know if the medicine might hamper the healing process. I know that some medicines will thin out your blood, and this might cause something bad to happen.

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