Broken Toes Vs. Stubbed Toes – Symptoms, Treatment & When to See a Doctor

Jan 25th, 2011 by Amanda Strouse | 54 Comments So Far

You’re walking barefoot, focusing on what you need to get done, you step too close to a piece of furniture … and the next thing you know, you’re cursing it and grabbing your foot in pain.

It has happened to all of us.

Stubbing a little toe hurts as much as if it was run over by a bus because our feet are densely packed with nerve endings. We may question the severity of a stubbed toe, wondering if it’s broken after ten minutes of soreness. When it comes to your health and comfort, it’s best to ice and rest your toe after an injury or, better yet, to keep your feet protected at all times.

Each toe consists of many bones – there are a total of 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot/ankle. One quarter of the body’s bones are located in the feet. It’s easy to break a bone in the foot and foot care specialists commonly see people with toe/foot fractures.

Many of us wonder what to do with a broken toe and what the difference is between a broken toe and a stubbed toe. You don’t waste time and money seeing a doctor for a stubbed toe, but at the same token, you don’t want to overlook a broken toe and have the fracture heal incorrectly, creating a crooked appearance.

CAUSES OF A BROKEN TOE:

  • Trauma or injury, which can include stubbing a toe or putting heavy force on a toe
  • Prolonged repetitive movements

SYMPTOMS OF A BROKEN TOE:

  • Hear a sound at the time of the break
  • “Pinpoint pain” which is pain at the place of impact at the time of the fracture and possibly for a few hours later. Often this pain goes away after several hours
  • Crooked or abnormal appearance of the toe
  • Bruising and swelling of the toe the next day
  • Bruising, discoloration of a nail
  • Blood or bone protrusions
  • “If you can walk on it, it’s not broken” is NOT true
  • Stress fracture (hairline break) cause swelling but sometimes not bruising and the pain could go away when resting, but returns when putting force on the toe

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR:

If the toe looks to be crooked or there is a bone protruding/out of place, it is recommended to see a doctor immediately. If the pain is severe and/or swelled for a prolonged period of time, it is recommended to see a doctor. If a fracture near a joint is left untreated, it can lead to arthritis.

HEALING TIME FOR A BROKEN TOE:

Symptoms of a broken toe may last 8 to 10 weeks and take that long to heal.

WHAT TO DO WITH BROKEN TOES:

If you suspect your toe is broken, do the following until you can see a doctor:

  • Rest – don’t put weight on it
  • Elevation – to decrease swelling and pain, keep the foot raised above the level of the heart
  • Ice – put ice or something ice-cold in a plastic bag and apply it to the injury for 15 to 20 minutes every one to two hours

What your doctor may have you do:

  • Splinting to keep it in a fixed position
  • Taping the fractured toe to another toe
  • Wearing rigid or stiff-soled shoes (a post-op shoe) to protect the toe and keep it positioned properly
  • Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, it may need surgery or to be put back in place and then splinted or casted

PREVENT BROKEN TOES AND STUBBED TOES:

Don’t walk around in your house barefoot. Wear orthopedic slippers to protect your feet at all times and prevent broken toes.

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54 Comments on “Broken Toes Vs. Stubbed Toes – Symptoms, Treatment & When to See a Doctor”


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  3. Will said:

    Hi I’m 13 years old and play lacrosse I stubbed my little toe on coffee table over a week ago when I’m playing my games I can’t run on it with the pain even when I sut it’s throbbing do you think it’s broken


  4. Administrator said:

    Hi Will – sounds like you may need to stay off you foot for awhile. If the pain continues, we recommend visiting a podiatrist.


  5. Lee said:

    Ok I’ve had some experience unfortunately. First thing is the acronym RICE ie rest,ice, compression and elevation. The first 24-48 hours it is critical to apply ice as much and as long as possible.I use reusable non-toxic ice substitute packs which can be found at drug stores,walmart ect.I use the smaller ones which can be folded in half so you ice both sides of the affected toe or toes at the same time. When I’m laying down or in my recliner, I take tape and wrap it around the ice substitute packs so as to hold it on the affected digit and this applies compression at the same time.you don’t need much. The next thing which is also critical is that you need to get a cheap pair of flip flops. Shoes or sneakers will cause great pain and make the healing a very long process. You can wear a flip flop on only the affected foot if desired.


  6. Brenda said:

    I stubbed my big toe over a week ago it bled only ttle. I had the toe covered with a bandaid plus it was polished. I removed the polish and there was a faint green spot. Now two days later the green spot has become bigger and darker green. Is this normal?


  7. mike said:

    Stubbed my toes on my foot except for the big one this morning. I can move my toes around fine, there’s no swelling or black and blue, but the toes still hurt and the top of the foot hurts a bit also. Possible fracture?


  8. mike said:

    It happened about five hours ago also.


  9. don said:

    Stubbed my big toe playing basketball on Wednesday and knew something was wrong because the pain was so intense and not easing up. I knew nothing could really be done for it, but I decided to go to the doctor today (two days later) to find out if it was actually broken. I was going to try and play basketball again the following week and didn’t want to make it worse. Found out the big toe was indeed broken and I was given a protective-soled boot to wear and advised to stay off of it for at least 3 weeks. That was probably the most pain I’ve been in, in a long time. Kind of glad because if it hadn’t been broken, I would have thought, either I’m not as tough as I thought or I’ve got some really strong bones.


  10. Michele said:

    Hi, I badly stubbed my toe when I cought it doing a box jump at the gym. It was swollen, very bruised and very painful for a while. It has all healed now, but it is constantly clicking and uncomfortable- like it needs to click into place but won’t! Any suggestions?
    Thanks


  11. Sara said:

    Hi, was running in my house and slipped, hitting my foot against a stair. It hurt quite a bit on the first three toes, but 3 hours later, my big toe still hurts quite a bit, especially when I walk. It makes my eyes water a bit, which makes me think it is broken because the only other time I have cried was when my finger was cut off a couple years ago. Would it be worth seeing a doctor/gp?

    Thanks


  12. Administrator said:

    Yes, we recommend seeing a doctor if it continues to hurt.


  13. Administrator said:

    I would recommend showing it to your doctor.


  14. Amber said:

    hi, i am 14 years old. i stubbed my toe hard against a chair at my church a few days ago. its red and swollen like it has been for 2 days. the top is purple ad the middle bone looks bigger and t is to the side. do you think it is broken???


  15. sue kirk said:

    stubbed my middle toe on the ottoman and it hurts real bad. it’s swollen and hurts and looks a little black and blue but didn’t hear anything pop when I hit. Could it just be stubbed.


  16. Juli said:

    I hit my toe/foot very hard getting in the back of a taxi van. I could not hear a popping noise because the hitting sound was too loud. The impact hurt terribly. Immediately after, under the nail of my toe was purple, my toe is throbbing and burning. I am at an airport to take a flight so I can not really rest, ice or elevate it. It feels like it is swelling. I am turning my foot to put the pressure away from that toe. Does this sound like a break or just a stub? Thanks in advance.


  17. JennaG said:

    Hi Amber, If the pain is severe and/or swelled for a prolonged period of time, it is recommended to see a doctor.


  18. Dani said:

    Sounds like if you have to ask you should probably go to the doctor.


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  20. JennaG said:

    Clotting is often an issue with flights and once the flight lands, the pain is probably even more intense. There really isn’t much a doctor will do unless the toe is dislodged (crooked) or the pain is persistent for an extended period. Immobilization is the goal to allow the joint to heal. A shoe with a thick sole can decrease movement in the injured joint. Depending on which toe was injured, a buddy wrap maybe helpful (wrap medical tape around the injured toe and the adjoining un-injured toe) or get a toe cap:

    http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/pro-tec-athletics-toe-caps.html

    Thank you for your comment!


  21. James said:

    2 weeks ago I stubbed my toe weeks ago, and it severly for the moment, but then the pain went away after two days but now the pain comes and goes but there’s no signs of swelling or bruising and it looks just like the other big toe


  22. Aaron said:

    Nearly a month back, I stubbed my pinkie toe against a door frame and heard a loud pop like when you crack your knuckles. It hurt like hell at first, but the pain went away after a couple hours. Now, the pain is not as bad as before, but it’s persistent and I’m not sure what is going on. I can walk on that foot with very little pain and it isn’t painful to the touch, but it hurts a bit more when I try to bend the toe with my hand. I can bend the toe on it’s own with little to no pain. The pain is around the last joint (where the toe connects to the foot), but the joint itself doesn’t really hurt when I touch it. The toe doesn’t look misshapen, it just hurts and kinda tingles and itches. I just had stitches and can’t afford to get my toe fixed unless I’m positive it’s broken. What worries me is how long the pain has lasted and how it just hurts when I’m not putting pressure on it or moving it. It’s either a sprain, a bone bruise, a dislocation, or a break and I want to know how likely my case is a break.


  23. JennaG said:

    I would recommend seeing a doctor since it’s difficult to ascertain without a physical examination. Also healing times fluctuate with activity levels, general health and footwear choices. If you’re looking for a shoe I’d recommend Sanita because of their thick sole, which decreases movement in the injured joint. http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/shop-by-brand-sanita.html


  24. JennaG said:

    I highly recommend seeing a doctor for a physical examination. Also see steel insoles for treating Turf Toe. http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/conditions-turf-toe.html


  25. Kaitlyn said:

    Hey, I stubbed right between the two middle toes on my foot a little over 2 weeks ago. I heard a pop when it happened but I pop my joints often enough I didn’t think anything of it. The next day I woke up with a bruise across the top of my foot that lasted about 5 days, now ( two weeks later ) not only is pain starting to intensify but it’s started feeling like there’s something between those two toes, which when I check there’s nothing there. At this point I’m pretty sure something is broken but I just wanted a second opinion before going to the doctor ( I hate doctors …). Do you think I should have it checked our?


  26. Katie said:

    Hi! Yesterday I slammed my toe pretty hard against a door frame and it hurt pretty bad. I don’t know if there was a loud cracking sound. I hurt my third toe and it is black and blue. It looks like it is slightly out of place, but it is not very noticeable. I am a dancer and I have to be able to walk on it in two days. I can point my foot with no pain and I can stand on my toes with no pain. It only hurts slightly when I walk on it. Do you think I am ok?


  27. Gwiba M said:

    I also sustained a toe injury, playing soccer .3 months in June I kicked the ground barefoot. ther was no POP but my big toe was swollen. I checked out some remedies on internet and tried them. I after a while (7-12 days) of rest I returned to soccer after the swelling had gone down .My toe got swollen again. I went to the doctor he took x-rays and said its nothing major , he said roughly 3 days I’d be. fine. I rest my toe for a week. it was still not fine. its September now and I’m still not okay . what should I do


  28. JennaG said:

    Yes, please see a doctor, this may be a stress fracture or other internal injury that you cannot see.


  29. JennaG said:

    All the classic signs of a fracture, I would have it checked by a doctor if my livelihood was as a dancer.


  30. JennaG said:

    We recommend seeing a podiatrist or change doctors- there should be resolution in that time period.


  31. kirsten said:

    I stubbed my toe like 3weeks ago and I just did again now my toe really hurts when I bend it does that mean its broken


  32. JennaG said:

    It’s best to go see a doctor to make sure it’s not broken or fractured if it still hurts.


  33. Holly said:

    Unsure whether to see a doctor. Stubbed my toe next to the baby toe the 26th, turned black & blue and blue below my big toe. I can’t touch it without a lot of pain n the side. The ball of my foot is sore and my foot can hurt by my toe when I have no pressure on it. Walking hurts most times. I can get sharp stabbing pains in the ball of my foot or by my toe when it is up and resting. I just don’t want to waste time because they make you feel silly when it isn’t broken and finding the time to go is hard.


  34. Kelsey said:

    I stubbed my Big Toe in Mckall, Id on a rock in July, It really hurt then. Was pretty Bruised and hard to walk on. 2 days ago I stubbed it again while walking, and it made me drop to the floor I was in so much pain. It’s hard to bend it even bend my Big Toe, and it’s starting to Bruise. Would this be something I should get it looked at? It also hurts when I walk. Thank you


  35. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Hi Kelsey. Yes, even if it’s not broken you could have a fracture or a torn ligament so it’s best to get your toe checked out. Thank you for your comment, feel better soon!


  36. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Hi Holly. It’s best to get your toe checked out, it could be fractured or you may have torn a ligament which would require a walking boot to help distribute body weight until it heals properly. If your current doctor makes you feel silly try a new doctor! Thank you for your comment and take care!


  37. Johnna said:

    Dropped an impact wrench on my foot like a month ago, and there was some bruising but not much. I realized about two weeks ago that my toes are still sensitive to movement, and have been increasing in intensity. I also can’t spread my toes or wiggle them as well as the opposite foot. Is it even possible for them to be broken for this long and me not realize it?


  38. Jenna Goldberg said:

    You should seek medical attention to see if there is anything they can do, but a simple bruise would have resolved by now and wouldn’t cause loss of sensation.


  39. jessica h said:

    Last night, my toddler woke up screaming. Rushing to his room barefoot, I slammed my pinky and side of my foot into a metal chair leg. Omg. Owie. It hurt for about 20 min while I sat in my son’s room and I had to hop back to my room after. No initial swelling. Just red and painful.
    Moved wrong this morning in bed and eeeek! Ouch! Can’t bear weight on that side of my foot, but can limp on my heel. Swollen, but no obvious bruising. We’re 11 hours since the whack.
    It’s not broken, right? I mean, likely not? I should see some bruising were it broken, correct? I probed it some and it was uncomfortable, but then, seconds later, was throbbing enough to make me think, “That was dumb…”
    It was tingling early this morning and elevated now, it’s a dull ache.
    The acute, painful spot is at the base of the pinkie toe, but the underside of the foot is what’s hurting when I’m limping.
    How much time should I give this before I head for my GP? I’m not going for a stubbed toe…..


  40. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Hi Jessica,

    Sorry about your poor pinky toe! They very least you can do is wear a rocker bottom healing shoe that will offset your body weight. Since you have a toddler you won’t have the luxury of elevating the foot much I’m sure! You may eventually wind up visiting the doctor however, as it may be a fracture. The issue with fractures is that they will heal, but there will be a source of pain and are arthritis-prone in the future since there is bone damage.

    Feel better soon, and thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Rocker bottom healing shoe:
    http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/darco-all-purpose-boot.html


  41. deann said:

    I stubbed my toe, third toe to the left of big toe. That evening it turned purple looking. And swollen. Been applying ice and taking advil with elevating it. I can move toe. Dr. Said give it a wk if not better than xray. I’m worried. Cause we leave for vacation in 13 days. Pray its not a break.


  42. shannon said:

    Hi, I was walking across my livingroom and tripped on the remote control that had fallen. Now the toe next to my pinky is black and blue on the underside and it kinda hurts. My husband said if its broken u wouldnt be able to walk on it. I broke my pinky toe about 18 years ago and it never bruised. It was dead of winter. They just taped my two toes together and sent me on my way… In the snow. No shoe, boot crutches anytjing. It hurt to even put a sock on. Do u tjink tjis one is broken too?


  43. ashley said:

    Hi there, i tripped on my staits lastnight, and my big toe on my right foot went under me. I can move it, i can walk on it, its just swollen and bruised along the side and on top. Theres a little bump under the knuckle as well. I elevated and iced it lastnight, as well as toom medicine. Im doing the same today. I cant afford a doctor, so what do you suggest I do? And I just started a new job, so taking time off is not an option either. Thanks!!


  44. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Hi Ashley,
    The great toe is essential for balance and as you know, bends with every step. A turf toe plate, or a thick soled shoe will help protect your injured toe. Also buddy taping it to the adjoining toe and wearing a Darco MedSurg Shoe should help: http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/darco-square-toe-medical-surgical-shoe.html

    See Alegria and Sanita brands for footwear options.
    Alegria: http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/pg-lite-alegria-professional-collection.html
    Sanita: http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/shop-by-brand-sanita-women.html

    Thank you for your comment, feel better soon!


  45. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Hi Shannon,

    It is a myth that you cannot walk on a broken toe, however the buddy taping is a good idea. Otherwise there is not much else you can do other than staying off the foot, elevating it and NSAIDs.

    Thank you for your comment, feel better soon!


  46. Mary said:

    I had a freak accident today. I had to take my boots off to get my weight at a doctor’s appointment. My left little toenail stuck on the sock, pulled it, and it really hurt. I noticed when I took my socks off tonight that , my little toe is all blood red. What should I do?


  47. Jenna Goldberg said:

    Unfortunately there’s not much that you can do, other than making sure it heals with as little aggravation as possible. Protect your toe with a bandage or a toe cap.
    http://www.healthyfeetstore.com/pro-tec-athletics-toe-caps.html


  48. 190310 said:

    Hi,
    My toe nail grew into the skin and i stubbed it and i cut the nail, but ever since then it started hurting, then it started bleeding, and pus keeps coming out and now it’s completely purple.
    Used betadine and dettol soaks and on antibiotics but still hurts. I can’t bend my toe, only push it up. Please help. – See more at: http://www.healthyfeetblog.com/broken-toes-stubbed-toes-symptoms-treatment/comment-page-1#comment-832018


  49. Jenna Goldberg said:

    See the doctor ASAP! If you don’t have a podiatrist your primary care Dr. will be fine.


  50. KIm said:

    Subbed my toe pretty hard on a chair leg Sunday2/9/14 and yesterday Monday 2/10/14 I noticed a bruise on my toe and it is sensitive to the touch… But I can walk on it(not sure about run cause havent ran yet since Sunday) so should I tape it? Is it broken?


  51. Caitlin said:

    I stubbed my toe on a wood corner and it’s red and puffy and the corner made a small cut in my toe that’s bleeding. It hurts when it’s just sitting there but when I walk it doesn’t hurt as much only a little. What should I do


  52. Astella said:

    Hi I stubbed my pinky toe against the door frame, a week ago, it made a very loud sound and caused immense pain. It took three days for the pain to disappear and there was no swelling that I could see or bruising and it wasn’t bent or anything, also I could touch it the next day and pull on it with slight discomfort but not so much pain – so I thought it mustn’t be broken. The pain comes back when I wear my boots that have heels about 8cm high – the pain is underneath my toe in the fold and up the side where it looks like a knuckle for your pinky toe. Is it broken/fractured? Should I see a doctor?


  53. Astella said:

    Also, it is now making a clicking sound when I fold my toes.


  54. Kylee said:

    Hi,
    I’m 14 years old and slammed my pinky toe into the metal clothing rack at the store. The pain wouldnt stop after a 30 seconds like my usual stubbed toes do so I looked down and it was bleeding everywhere. It looks a little fatter than my other pinkie toe and the nail is a little blue. Not sure what to do. I wanted to play tennis all this week and wasn’t sure if I could wrap it with something to prevent the pain. It hurts when I walk.

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