Introduction 

A broken toe is a common injury, usually caused by dropping a heavy object on the foot or hitting the toe on something. It usually takes four to six weeks to heal, although severe injuries may take longer.

A break or a crack in a bone is also known as a fracture.

This advice is about the care of a toe following an injury. If you're not sure whether the toe is broken or just badly sprained, don't worry – in most cases, a painful and swollen toe caused by an injury should be cared for at home, regardless of whether or not it's broken. Learn more about sprains and strains.

If you have a painful swollen toe but no injury, see your GP, especially if you have diabetes.

How do I know if I’ve broken my toe?

A broken toe will be painful, swollen and red. There may be bruising of the skin around the area and sometimes a collection of blood beneath the toenail. You'll find it difficult to walk and wearing a shoe will be painful.

If the break is severe, the toe may stick out at an angle.

Most broken toes can be cared for at home and medical treatment may not be necessary.

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 near the injured toe, which will need cleansing to prevent infection

When to go to hospital

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if:

  • your toes are cold and numb or tingling (you may have damaged the nerves)
  • the skin on your toe has turned blue or grey
  • you've severely injured the toe – for example, if the toe is left bent at an angle or has an open wound

Caring for your broken toe at home

The following tips can be used to care for a broken toe at home.

  • For little toes, put a piece of cotton wool or gauze between your injured toe and the one next to it and tape the two toes together with a plaster. The healthy toe will act as a splint.
  • Using a shoe with a stiff sole or a surgical cast shoe will help your mobility.
  • Keep your foot raised for as long as possible, for example by resting it on cushions. This will help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Hold an ice pack (try frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) to the toe for 15-20 minutes every one to two hours for the first couple of days. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long, and not putting weight on the toe. Avoid any activities that might have caused the fracture until your toe is fully healed. You can begin normal activity once the swelling has gone down and you're able to comfortably wear a protective shoe.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen to relieve the pain, but don't give aspirin to a child under 16 years of age.
  • Wear sturdy shoes that don't squash or bend the toe.

Severe toe fractures

If the break is severe and bone has broken away at an angle, this will need to be moved back into place using a technique called reduction. An X-ray of the toe will be required first.

You will be given an injection of local anaesthetic to numb the area and doctors can often realign the bone through the skin without making any cuts.

If a break is particularly severe, surgery may be needed so special pins or screws can be fixed to the broken bone to keep it in place while it heals.

A broken big toe may need to be supported in a cast. If a lot of blood is trapped underneath the toenail and it's very painful, it will need to be drained through a small hole made in your nail, or the nail will need to be removed.

You may be given crutches so you can walk without putting weight on the toe.

A broken toe bone that has pierced the skin and damaged the surrounding tissue may become infected, so the wound will need to be cleansed regularly. You may be prescribed antibiotics and a tetanus jab may be considered if your vaccinations aren't up to date.

Page last reviewed: 16/12/2014

Next review due: 16/12/2016