A common foot injury in adults and children is a stubbed toe. This is often the result of walking barefoot and colliding with a curb or piece of furniture.
Most stubbed toe injuries are not serious. After the pain subsides, we often go about our day as usual. However, there are times when a stubbed toe needs to be treated. Here are signs that you should see your doctor or podiatrist.
How to Tell If a Stubbed Toe Is Broken
-Pain that persists for a few hours or returns when putting pressure on the toe.
-Discolouration that lasts for a few days.
-Swelling that lasts for a few days.
-Bleeding, an abnormal appearance of the toe, and an audible sound at the time of the injury are other signs that suggest a broken toe. People who have broken a toe are often able to walk, and they may not be in any pain following the initial injury, although walking and wearing shoes may be difficult because of swelling.
The symptoms listed above do not always mean a toe fracture has occurred, but they still warrant a visit to the doctor or podiatrist. An untreated fractured toe may result in complications. In some instances, these complications may end up causing more pain and costly or time-consuming treatment.
Diagnosing Stubbed Toes
In addition to toe fracture, a stubbed toe can result in a ligament sprain, contusion, dislocation, tendon injury, or other soft tissue injury. These injuries are caused by the same mechanisms that produce toe fractures.
Stubbed toe injuries in children, particularly of the big toe, can result in a more serious injury. Infections such as osteomyelitis can develop if treatment of an open fracture is delayed. Parents should keep a close watch on a child who stubs his or her toe, and seek medical attention if any symptoms of a fracture develops.
The two most likely complications of a stubbed toe are:
An infection may occur when the skin near your injured toe is broken. Stubbing a toe with an ingrown toenail may cause an ingrown toenail infection, necessitating debridement and/or antibiotics. A stubbed toe in an immunocompromised person—such as someone with diabetes who is more susceptible to infection after minor injury—can lead to a foot ulcer or infection of the bone.
Osteoarthritis is referred to as a “wear and tear” disease, because the condition typically develops over time with the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in one or more joints. Osteoarthritis may also develop after an injury, however, or even months or years after the injury. Osteoarthritis in the big toe, for example, is often caused by stubbing the toe or by dropping something on it.
Why a Stubbed Toe is So Painful
There are two reasons for the excruciating pain we experience upon stubbing our toes.
Our toes are densely populated by nerve endings that relay sensory feedback, such as pain sensations, to the central nervous system. Our brains are programmed to give high priority to sensory input from the feet, because they are in touch with the ground, and play a critical role in preventing harm to the body.
Unlike other areas of our body, the toe has little fatty tissue or muscle to absorb the force of an impact. So when that large piece of furniture collides with someone’s toe with little tissue and lots of nerve endings the result is going to be OUCH!
When to Seek Help for Your Stubbed Toe
A “wait and see” approach to a stubbed toe is appropriate in most cases. These injuries often resolve without treatment. If symptoms persist after a few days, it is always best to contact your doctor or podiatrist. They will ask for a detailed explanation of how the injury occurred, and the symptoms you experienced at the time of injury and afterward.
Examination and Diagnostic Tests
If your doctor or podiatrist recommends that you come to the office for an evaluation, he or she will perform an examination of the entire foot. This may include:
-Inspection of all the toes for deformity; a visible deformity may indicate a displaced fracture or dislocation.
-Palpation of the toes and foot to reveal any point tenderness, which is typically present over the site of a fracture. Localised tenderness of a contusion may mimic the point tenderness of a fracture.
-Application of gentle manoeuvres that move the toes upward and downward. This can help distinguish a contusion from a fracture.
-Radiographs of the toes and foot if a fracture is suspected.
-Your doctor may be able to treat the injured toe in the office, or you may be referred to an orthopaedic specialist for further treatment.
How to Treat a Stubbed Toe
Although a stubbed toe often requires no treatment, applying ice to the toe may help reduce pain and swelling. It is important to inspect your injured toe to make sure the skin is intact. Any break in the skin may invite infection; this is especially true in the case of an ingrown toenail. Cleaning the wound and applying an antibacterial cream is advisable.
Use common sense when wearing shoes after stubbing your toe. It may be best to avoid tight-fitting shoes until any pain or swelling subsides. When taking care of a child with a stubbed toe, be sure to apply the same consideration about footwear. If any new symptoms develop, it is wise to contact your doctor or podiatrist.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!