Over the past few weeks, I discussed different types of toe and foot fractures. My name is Dr. Andrew Schneider, and I'm a podiatrist in Houston, Texas. The treatment for a broken foot varies depending on the type and severity of the fracture.
When you break your toe, it can end up one of two ways - displaced or non-displaced. A non-displaced fracture is treated in a very straightforward way. We don't cast a broken toe. I recommend using a buddy splint. That's when you tape the broken toe to the toe next to it. This will stabilize the fracture as it heals. You'll often be able to wear your regular shoes. Sometimes, I may recommend that you wear a surgical shoe for additional support.
If the fracture is displaced, I'll numb the toe and apply traction to realign the fractured bones. Once realigned, I'll then have use a buddy splint as it heals. On the rare circumstance where I'm unable to reduce the fracture with manipulation, we'll need to correct it surgically. Again, this is very rare for broken toes.
Treatment for a stress fracture is more involved. Although a stress fracture starts as a non-displaced, hairline fracture, it can worsen and become displaced if the stress on the bone isn't removed. That's why no matter where you find the stress fracture, you'll be immobilized.
Immobilization is usually accomplished by wearing a fracture boot. You may be able to walk while wearing the boot. If the fracture appears to be less stable, I'll have you stay non-weightbearing on crutches or a knee scooter. You will typically be immobilized for six to eight weeks. You'll be back to regular shoes at that point. At 12 weeks, you should be released for full exercise and activity.
When treating a traumatic and displaced fracture, surgical reduction is necessary in most cases. After the surgery, you'll be in a cast, splint, or fracture boot. Depending on the stability of the fracture, I'll start you weightbearing as it becomes appropriate. You'll be immobilized for six to eight weeks after the surgery. In general, you'll be back to wearing shoes at that point and back to full activity at about 12 weeks after the surgery.
No matter how the fracture is treated, there are times when the ends just don't heal back together. This is a condition known as a non-union. While these cases are rare, they do happen. In these cases, I'll order a device called the bone growth stimulator. A bone stimulator is a device that's placed over the fracture. The device forms an electromagnetic field around the fractured bone. This stimulates new bone growth and promotes the bone to heal completely with full strength. Bone stimulators are safe and effective. If your fracture is taking longer to heal than you would expect it to, ask about using a bone stimulator.
The most important thing to remember is that fractures can become worse, especially if they're not treated early. Waiting only makes the fracture more complicated to treat and, ultimately will extend your recovery. So don't wait to get that X-ray!