Nearly one fourth of all the bones in your body are in your feet, which provide you with both support and movement. A broken (fractured) bone in your forefoot (metatarsals) or in one of your toes (phalanges) is often painful but rarely disabling. Most of the time, these injuries heal without operative treatment.

Treatment

See a doctor as soon as possible if you think that you have a broken bone in your foot or toe. Until your appointment, keep weight off the leg and apply ice to reduce swelling. Use an ice pack or wrap the ice in a towel so it does not come into direct contact with the skin. Apply the ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Take an analgesic such as aspirin or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain. Wear a wider shoe with a stiff sole.

Rest is the primary treatment for stress fractures in the foot. Stay away from the activity that triggered the injury, or any activity that causes pain at the fracture site, for three to four weeks. Substitute another activity that puts less pressure on the foot, such as swimming. Gradually, you will be able to return to activity. Your doctor or coach may be able to help you pinpoint the training errors that caused the initial problem so you can avoid a recurrence.

The bone ends of a displaced fracture must be realigned and the bone kept immobile until healing takes place. If you have a broken toe, the doctor will "buddy-tape" the broken toe to an adjacent toe, with a gauze pad between the toes to absorb moisture. You should replace the gauze and tape as often as needed.

Remove or replace the tape if swelling increases and the toes feel numb or look pale. If you have diabetes or peripheral neuropathy (numbness of the toes), do not tape the toes together. You may need to wear a rigid flat-bottom orthopaedic shoe for two to three weeks.

If you have a broken bone in your forefoot, you may have to wear a short-leg walking cast, a brace, or a rigid, flat-bottom shoe. It could take six to eight weeks for the bone to heal, depending on the location and extent of the injury.

After a week or so, the doctor may request another set of X-rays to ensure that the bones remain properly aligned. As symptoms subside, you can put some weight on the leg. Stop if the pain returns.

Surgery is rarely required to treat fractures in the toes or forefoot. However, when it is necessary, it has a high degree of success.

*Source:  American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society® http://www.aofas.org

*This material was codeveloped by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons