Dr. Corey Fox
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Long Island Podiatrist serving Massapequa and all of Nassau County

Many people mistakenly believe an injured big toe is a minor issue, often taping it to the adjacent toe and waiting it out. Don't underestimate the importance of prompt and proper treatment for a broken toe. Because immediate care is important, it’s critical to know if your big toe injury is a sprain or a fracture. Big toe sprains and fractures

Your Big Toe: Is it a Sprain or a Break?

Most everyone has stubbed their toe and know how painful it can be. The instant reaction is a sharp, piercing pain that can momentarily take your breath away. In most cases, the pain from a stubbed toe subsides after a few minutes.

However, if the force of the impact is hard enough, it can lead to more severe injuries, such as a sprain or fracture. Because the pain can be so intense, it may be hard to know whether your injury is a sprain or a break. Both injuries share similar symptoms, such as swelling, bruising, pain, throbbing, and stiffness. But both also have different symptoms.

When Your Toe Is Sprained

A sprained toe is caused by damage to the ligaments surrounding your joints. Damage to the ligaments makes it difficult for your joints to move freely without suffering any pain. A sprain of the main joint of the big toe is also known as turf toe.

Symptoms of a Big Toe Sprain

  • Pain while moving your toe
  • Pain when moving around

What Your Toe Is Broken

A broken toe is caused by a fracture in any of the toe bones, which are also known as phalanges that connect to your metatarsal bones. Because the phalanges are so small, it can be challenging to detect a fracture.

Symptoms of a Big Toe Fracture

  • Toe won’t move
  • Toe makes it difficult to walk or stand
  • Toe becomes numb or tingly
  • Toe pain doesn’t go away or lessen in a few days
  • Toe color changes to a bluish-purple color
  • Toe looks crooked or disfigured

The key distinction between a sprained and a broken toe is in your ability to move your toe. A broken toe typically has minimal to no movement; a sprained toe maintains some degree of movement, although with some pain.  

When a Broken Big Toe Doesn’t Heal Properly

An untreated broken big toe can result in serious and potentially long-lasting complications, which can include:

  • Infection. If the injury has left an open wound or the toenail is damaged, you are at risk of infection.
  • Deformity. An untreated broken toe can heal incompletely or improperly. This could result in crookedness or deformity in the big toe, which may require corrective surgery.
  • Osteoarthritis. An incorrectly healed fracture can lead to osteoarthritis as you get older. You can also experience generalized foot pain and discomfort and an increased likelihood of further foot injury.

Seeking the proper care from a podiatrist can ensure that your toe heals correctly, enabling you to get back to your daily activities without the concern of potential complications.

Benefits of Seeing an Experienced Long Island Podiatrist After a Big Toe Injury

The initial treatment for both a sprained and broken toe involves resting the injured toe and elevating the foot. However, if you find you can’t to run, walk, or stand the following day, or if the pain intensifies rather than subsides, you should see a podiatrist.

Your podiatrist will start with a thorough evaluation, likely involving imaging techniques such as X-rays. One of the easiest ways to tell if your big toe is fractured is through an X-ray. Massapequa Podiatry Associates uses various diagnostic tools to determine the underlying cause and severity of your condition.

Possible Treatment Options for a Fractured Big Toe

  • RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Tape and splints
  • Specialized shoes
  • Immobilization using a cast or boot
  • K-Laser Therapy
  • Surgery, if the big toe can’t be positioned properly
  • Physical therapy sessions
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