Broken toe

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

A broken toe is a common injury, usually caused by dropping a heavy object on the foot or hitting the toe on something. It usually takes four to six weeks to heal.

A break or a crack in a bone is also known as a fracture.

This advice is about the care of a toe following an injury. If you're not sure whether the toe is broken or just badly injured, don't worry - in most cases, a painful and swollen toe caused by an injury should be cared for at home, regardless of whether or not it is broken (see below). 

If you have a painful swollen toe but no injury, see your GP, especially if you are diabetic.

How do I know if I've broken my toe?

A broken toe will be painful, swollen and red. There may be bruising of the skin around the area and sometimes a collection of blood underneath the toenail. You will find it difficult to walk and wearing a shoe will be painful.

If the break is severe, the toe may stick out at an angle.

Most broken toes, especially broken little toes, can be cared for at home and medical treatment is not necessary.

When to see your GP

Check the toe every day and call your GP if:

  • The pain gets worse or is not relieved by ordinary painkillers. Your GP may be able to prescribe a stronger painkiller.
  • You have a wound near the injured toe, which will need cleansing to prevent infection.

When to go to hospital

Go to your nearest accident and emergency department if:

  • You have severely injured the toe (see below).
  • Your toes are cold and numb or tingling (you may have damaged the nerves).
  • The skin on your toe has turned blue or grey.

Severe toe fractures

If the break is severe and the toe bone has broken away at an angle, this will need to be moved back into place - a procedure known as reduction.

You will be given an injection of local anaesthetic to numb the area and doctors can often realign the bone through the skin without making any cuts.

A broken big toe may need to be supported in a cast. If a lot of blood is trapped underneath the toenail and it is very painful, the blood will need to be drained through a small hole made in your nail, or the nail will need to be removed.

You may be given crutches so you can walk without putting weight on the toe.

A broken toe bone that has pierced the skin and damaged the surrounding tissue may become infected, so the wound will need to be cleansed regularly.

Caring for your broken toe at home

  • Put a piece of cotton wool or gauze in between your injured toe and the one next to it and tape the two toes together with a plaster. The healthy toe will act as a splint. 
  • Keep your foot raised for as long as possible, for example by resting it on cushions. This will help reduce the swelling and pain.
  • Hold an ice pack (try frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) to the toe for 15-20 minutes every one to two hours for the first couple of days.
  • Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long, and not putting weight on the toe.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen to relieve the pain.
  • Wear sturdy shoes that do not squash or bend the toe.

Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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