How many times have you heard it said, when someone thinks they may have broken a toe, “No sense going to the doctor, there’s nothing they can do for a broken toe.” That’s a myth! In fact, not treating a fractured toe correctly can lead to serious complications including: a deformity of the bone structure which may limit mobility or make it hard to find comfortable shoes, arthritis, chronic pain, and possibly long-term dysfunction requiring surgery to correct. At Blue Ridge Foot & Ankle Clinic, we want you to know the facts about toe fractures. Toe fractures, or breaks fall into two categories.
Also known as acute fractures, traumatic fractures are the result of a direct impact or blow, such as dropping something heavy on your toe or stubbing it really hard—you usually know when it happens. You may hear a breaking sound at the time the incident occurs and have serious pain on impact that lasts a few hours (the pain may go away after several hours but that does not mean the toe isn’t fractured). There may be bruising and swelling the next day and the toe may appear misshapen or out of place.
Stress fractures may not be so obvious. These small, hairline breaks have symptoms that can come and go. There may be pain at the site when touched and swelling of a particular area without bruising. Pain usually comes after activity but goes away when resting. Oftentimes stress fractures result when athletes over do it and try to increase their activity level too quickly. They can also be caused by improper footwear, deformities in foot structure, or certain diseases like osteoporosis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Just because you can still walk on your foot is not proof that your toe isn’t broken. If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important that one of our board certified podiatrists examine your toe promptly. Dr. Kevin P. Murray and Dr. Stewart M. Chang will first conduct a thorough exam of your toe and foot, which may include digital x-rays. Depending on the type and severity of the fracture, several treatment options are available:
- Splinting the toe to keep it in a fixed position until it heals
- “Buddy taping” the broken to another toe is sometimes appropriate
- Wearing rigid or stiff-soled shoes to protect the toe from further damage and keep it in the proper position
- Surgery may be required if the break is severe or the bone is badly displaced.
If you believe you may have a fractured toe, don’t delay. Make an appointment today at one of our two conveniently located offices in Fishersville or Charlottesville.
A runner with a Stress Fracture, often times have a burning desire to return to running. Some think a stress fracture really in not a “real” fracture, so return to activity should take less time. Right? I say maybe ……A fracture of any type is a challenge as is significantly alters ones lifestyle. Particularly runners. They may end up forgoing a race, a goal they have set for achievement, or just miss the “runner’s high” they get from getting out on the road. In find that runners often get in a hurry to get back into the activity and can cause additional injury from not waiting until the appropriate time to return.
While it is true stress fractures are not “true” and complete fractures … the condition does require similar protocols for fracture healing. However, in my experience, the traditional fracture healing times may by truncated.
Generally speaking an osseous injury requires 6-8 weeks of protection and relative inactivity to heal adequately. This is a “rule of thumb” benchmark which has been made over time by medical professionals based on experience, x-ray evidence and patient feedback in the healing process. It is individual dependent, fluid, but very close to accurate in my experience.
What are the biggest factors that influence my determination of healing? !) X-Ray evidence. 2) Resolution of pain.
So, how do I transition back to running?
– What is the most accurate indication of healing? Bone healing, as with fractures, is usually confirmed on x-ray. If the x-ray shows sufficient callus formation around the fracture and “filling” fracture by reduction of fracture line lucency, the area is healed. This means the bone is sufficiently stable for return to activity and re-injury risks are reduced. It is best to wait until this has occurred to return to any running type of exercise…. If your goal is to get back to running pain free, hastening your return to running is not advised.
– Pain is improved can I run? Depending on the type and degree of the fracture, pain can improve and sometimes resolve by 2-3 weeks. I often see most fractures being pain free at week 4. Absence of pain is a good sign, but not a guarantee that healing is complete. If you were to run too soon, I could create a situation requiring a return to cast or boot and possibly even surgery.
– How do I get back to running? The best way to get back to running is to do it progressively and gradually. . Expect recovery to normal to be 3 times that (at least) to what your recovery time was observed at. This means a recovery time of 6-8 weeks is a 18-24 gradual return to activity. . Start slow, preferably on a surface that will protect you from re-injury. As you transition back running, try up to 1 mile only for the first 3-5 days, and then start adding mileage to your normal running routine. Pain is always a good guide to prevent re-injury. Too much too soon, and your body will tell you. Don’t ignore these signs.
Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. This is especially true in an orthopedic injury. There will always be another race. There will be another time to set fitness goals. Take time to respect your body and appreciate the remarkable ability you have to affect healing to an injury. Your body thanks you!
Stress fractures can result from a number of reasons. Most common causes for stress fractures are decreased bone density, post-op complications from a foot surgery, and athletic training error / overuse injury in athletes, dancers, and “weekend warriors.” It typically occurs in the second metatarsal…. The longest of all central foot bones and the one subject to the most loading forces. Since the second metatarsal tends to carry more of the body’s weight during athletic and dance activities, the increase in pressure results in osteoclastic activity and compensatory osteoblastic activity becoming imbalanced.