Imagine losing a toe, it can’t be easy! For many, it’s a traumatic experience… and adjusting to the loss, physically and emotionally, isn’t a walk in the park.
Causes of a Lost Toe
Poor circulation, neuropathy and infections can cause a digit to be amputated in non-diabetics. Generally though, diabetes is one of the top reasons. Given diabetes interferes with the body’s ability to fight infection, foot health should be a matter of particular concern for diabetics. Small injuries can become infected more easily, and if the infection is not treated promptly enough, the infection may become severe enough to require amputation of a toe, forefoot, or the entire foot.
This problem is worsened by other diabetic complications that may arise, including diabetic neuropathy, which can interfere with an individual’s sensation of pain, causing them to ignore an injury until it has become severely infected, along with poor circulation, which can lead to gangrene.
Regardless of whether you had your toe severed in an accident, or amputated in a hospital, life will be slightly different with your toe gone; how different, depends largely on which toe you have lost. The loss of the fifth toe (the little one) is generally of minimal consequence to one’s gait (i.e., manner of walking). While you may experience some unsteadiness at first, most people learn rather quickly to adapt to the loss of the fifth toe, and are thereafter able to walk normally, and even run.
The loss of the big toe is somewhat more serious, and may be more difficult to learn to compensate for. The big toe is the last part of the foot to push off with every step we take, and while doing so it carries about 40 percent of the body’s weight. Many people learn to walk and even to run following the loss of this toe, but it usually takes longer than recovery from the loss of the little toe, and may be more painful. Also, because they are not designed to carry as much weight as the big toe, the other toes are not as strong, and may begin to hurt after you have been walking for a while.
Another problem with the loss of a toe, especially the big toe, is that over time, the bones of the foot may begin to shift positions. The arch can begin to shift so that the inner edge of the foot curves inward, and the first metatarsal begins to collapse onto the second metatarsal, pinching the major nerves running between the toes, causing intense, stabbing pain.
While stubbing your toe can be an extremely painful experience, stubbing a toe stump can be even more painful. The bone of a toe stump may be much closer to the surface than the bone of an intact big toe, and it lacks both the cushioning and the flexibility of the toe, making unexpected impacts much more unpleasant. A prosthetic toe is an option, but it’s not often done. Despite varied concerns, with proper medical care, the loss of a big toe need not result in significant disability in the long run.
Emergency Treatment for a Severed Toe
If you or someone you know suffers an accident that results in a severed toe, it is important to remain calm. If you are not the victim, do whatever you can to keep the afflicted person from panicking; an amputation injury is frightening, and naturally upsetting as well. Keep the foot raised, if possible, and try to apply direct pressure to the wound to minimise the bleeding.
If the severed toe can be recovered, keep it away from dirt or other contaminants, and rinse it in clean water, if possible. Wrap it in a clean, damp piece of cloth, put the cloth in a zip-lock plastic bag, and put the bag in ice-cold water. Do NOT place the toe directly in ice water. Avoid putting the toe directly on ice especially dry ice as this may cause frostbite. Keep the toe as cool as possible without freezing it, and keep it away from heat. A severed toe that is kept cool may be reattachable for as long as 18 hours after the accident; if not kept cold, it may only last as little as four hours.
Adjusting to the Loss of a Toe
Following the loss of a toe, there will be a period of emotional adjustment, which may be complicated by the pain of recovery. You may experience anxiety about walking again, and some people begin to fret over the change in the cosmetic appearance of their feet.
After the loss of a digit or limb, many people experience phantom pain, the sensation that the lost toe is still there, and it hurts! Phantom itching is also common. These sensations are unpleasant, but they will pass eventually. Ask your doctor what can be done about them.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!