“I think I broke my foot!”
We’ve all said it in our more dramatic moments, soon discovering that, while it hurts, it’s not actually broken.
Sometimes, however, a mild injury turns out to be a hairline fracture. Other times, an obviously traumatic event sends you to the emergency room. It’s important to know what to do if you think you’ve broken your foot and how to treat it if a break is confirmed.
Fractured vs. Broken Foot
A foot fracture is the medical term for a broken foot. However, the terms “fracture” and “break” are used interchangeably. There are, of course, degrees and types of breaks in the foot — just as in any part of the body — each requiring a different course of treatment.
The number of people suffering from broken bones each year varies. The most recent data shows between 11 and 15 million reported lower limb fractures each year. These fractures include the hip, upper and lower leg, ankle, foot, and toe. Within that, between 66 and 75 percent of these breaks occur in the ankle, foot, and toe.
Foot fractures are caused by a wide variety of accidents ranging from the common to the extreme.
- Impact injuries: Your foot can get crushed or broken during a car accident or from something as simple as dropping something heavy on it.
- Falls: Falling or jumping down even a short distance can cause a broken foot.
- Tripping: A foot fracture can result from a slight misstep on a rocky trail, a trip over a curb or step, or simply getting tripped up by a cord or rug. A painful stub can be enough to break a toe.
- Excessive use: Breaks called stress fractures can occur in the small bones of the feet due to repetitive force or frequent use. These types of breaks are more common in athletes like runners, basketball players, or gymnasts.
Children are more likely to suffer from foot fractures than adults. This is due to the relationship between the strength of their ligaments and tendons compared to that of their bones. The ligaments and tendons are stronger in children’s feet than their bones. In adults, the bones are stronger than the ligaments and tendons. The elderly are at increased risk of foot fractures due to their increased frequency of osteoporosis.
Foot Fracture Symptoms
Common foot fracture symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and sometimes visible deformity.
Pain from a broken foot is often significant enough that putting pressure on your injured limb dissuades you from walking. With stress fractures, however, the pain may be intermittent at first and worsen with time.
Bruising and swelling can occur with a broken foot, though they’re not always present. Other injuries, such as sprains, can also cause bruising and swelling. Seek a proper diagnosis of your injury from an orthopedic foot specialist, who can also suggest the proper treatment.
Foot Fracture Treatment
The severity of a fractured foot ranges from hairline cracks to injuries so severe the bone protrudes through the skin. With this range in severity comes a range of treatments, including surgery.
It is wise to seek immediate treatment if you suspect you’ve fractured your foot. Go to the emergency room if you have severe pain, the foot is obviously deformed, you have a large wound near the painful area, or if the foot is cold or numb.
The emergency doctor or your orthopedic foot specialist may need to take an X-ray or use another type of imaging to determine the exact location and severity of the injury.
How to heal a fractured foot
- Rest: Rest your foot to support healing and reduce swelling.
- Ice: Use an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to help ease pain and inflammation. Ice the injured area two to three times a day for 10 to 20 minutes each time.
- Compression: Reduce swelling by wrapping the injury with an elastic bandage. The wrap should not be so tight as to cause tingling, pain, or swelling around the bandaged area.
- Elevation: While icing (and any time you are sitting), prop the injured area up on soft pillows. Elevating the injury above your heart will alleviate the swelling.
- Use a brace or walking cast. As swelling decreases, your foot may fit into a supportive, hard-soled shoe.
- If you’ve broken your toe, tape the broken digit to a neighboring toe. Put a cotton ball or other light padding between the tapped toes.
- If your break is severe, your orthopedic specialist may need to cast your foot or perform surgery.
- Your orthopedic specialist may require you to walk with the aid of crutches to avoid putting weight on your injury while the bone heals.
Always work with your orthopedic foot specialist for diagnosis and proper treatment. Because of the different types of breaks possible, it’s integral not to go this one alone. Complications from a broken foot are also possible, such as blood clots, bleeding into the joint or surrounding muscles, or nerve damage.
Broken bones generally take several weeks to months to fully heal. It generally takes longer to heal as you age. Those who use nicotine in any form also experience delayed healing.
Focusing on prevention methods helps decrease the likelihood of a broken foot. These methods include proper footwear, smart driving choices, and proper nutrition and training.
Wear job or sport — appropriate footwear — boots with safety toes, non-slip shoes, or properly supportive athletic shoes.
Remind car passengers it’s unsafe to rest their feet up against the dashboard as an impact injury in that position would be quite serious.
Strengthen your bones with a healthy diet containing appropriate amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Take proper rest days or cross-train as guided by your foot and ankle specialist to avoid stress fractures.
If you have questions about your foot pain or foot injury and would like to talk to a specialist, please contact us.