Sprained toes are common injuries. When you have a sprained toe, you may still be able to move that toe and walk. But you should still see your podiatrist to make sure your injury heals the right way.
If you've sprained your toe, it means that you’ve caused damage to one of the ligaments surrounding your toe joint. This damage could be a result of stretching, twisting or allowing strong forces to impact the ligaments.
Now, sprained, strained and broken toes often present with the same symptoms. So important you understand the differences between these injuries. And you should always see your doctor for any foot and ankle injuries. Because you may need an X-ray to rule out a fracture.
Sprains, Strains and Fracture: Telling the Difference
As I said, sprained toes are injuries involving your toe ligaments. (Which are bands of connective tissue that keep your joints stable and your toe in one piece.)
Sprains are usually acute injuries that happen when you move your toe in the wrong way. Some sprains are more serious than others. So we grade them, and plan your recovery accordingly.
If you have a Grade 1 sprain. that means you haven't torn your ligament. It's just been stretched too much, so you should regain movement in a few days.
If your ligament has a partial tear, that's a Grade 2 sprain, and you're looking at about 8 weeks of rest and recovery. Finally, with a completely torn ligament (a Grade 3 injury) your healing could take as long as six months.
So if sprains come in all different grades, we now a strain isn't a less serious injury. Instead, strains are muscle and tendon injuries. They hurt, but they don't involve your ligaments.
And what about fractures? This type of injury directly impacts your toe bones. Fractures also come in different severity levels. They can range from minor, hairline fractures to more serious injuries. In those cases, your broken bones may actually move out of alignment. Called a displaced fracture, this type of break usually requires surgery.
Keep in mind, when you break your toe, you may sprain it as well. For that reason, when you've injured your toe, and you come into the office, we'll carefully examine your toe. Then, we'll go over all your symptoms. And we may order x-rays, to diagnose the full range of your injuries.
An Aside on Treating a Broken Toe
(By the way, if you think there's nothing you can do for a broken or sprained toe, you're not alone. In 2020, Kylie Jenner showed off her toes on Instagram, explaining why her middle toe was shorter than her others. The reason, she said? "I broke this middle toe in middle school. There's nothing you can do for a broken toe so I just had to let it heal how I wanted it to heal." But she's wrong. And if she had come to see me for her injury, I could have helped it heal properly. So she wouldn't be telling tall tales all over Social Media...at least not ones relating to her feet!)
But before you even come in to the office, you'll know something is wrong. Because your toe will hurt well after you stub or twist it. Wondering whether you've got a problem worth of making an appointment? Keep reading to learn the signs of a sprained toe.
What are the Symptoms of a Sprained Toe?
You may have a sprained toe if:
- Your toe hurts, especially when you walk
- You have difficulty moving the toe
- There is swelling, bruising, throbbing or tenderness
Top Causes of Toe Sprains
There are many different ways your toe could get sprained. But common causes include stubbing your toe, either against the wall or on the floor.
You may also sprain your toe if it gets caught on something as your walk or run, resulting in a twisting motion. If you trip, your toe may get bent backward, overextending the ligaments.
But I mostly see sprained toes with my athletic patients. It's especially common with football players, who are very susceptible to turf toe.
Remember: a turf toe injury happens if your toe bends too far upward. We see it with athletes who play on artificial turf. Becauae pushing off on that hard surface takes a toll on your ligament over time.
Treating a Sprained Toe
Once I've ruled out a broken toe with a thorough exam, I can usually give you a home healing plan. The key to getting better? I'll suggest RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Over the counter pain relievers can also help with the discomfort and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are best. In some cases, you may need to take all pressure off your toe, or it won't heal. (But that's usually when your sprain is severe. Think Grade 2 or higher.)
If that’s the case, I won't leave you hopping around. Instead, I'll provide you with a walking boot or crutches to help you through your recovery.
Of course, healing may take several weeks, or even months. But if you follow my instructions, you should be pain-free and back to your normal activities. And pretty soon, too!
Final Warning On Sprained and Broken Toes
Let’s review one dangerous foot myth: If you can move your toe, or walk on it, it must not be fractured. That statement is not, in fact, true. You may very well be able to move your toe, even if you’ve broken a bone. It will hurt, but you could still do it. Here are the telltale signs to watch for that suggest you might have a broken toe or foot:
- Immediate pain (throbbing)
- Bruising or Redness
- Tenderness to the touch
- Pain that is better when resting and worse when moving
- Change in shape of foot, toe or ankle
- Problems getting your shoe on or off
Here’s the important thing to remember after an injury. Even just one of these signs could be a sign you've broken a bone. And the only way to rule out or diagnose a broken foot, toe or ankle bone is to see me as soon as possible after the injury.
In my Houston podiatry practice, I offer in house x-rays. And, if you've broken a bone, you'll get the highest level of care, with a far shorter wait time than in a hospital emergency room.
If you experience pain immediately after a fall or other foot injury, there’s a good chance that you’ve got a sprained or broken toe, foot or ankle. So make an appointment with us immediately, and we'll get get on the path to a full recovery.