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.

Types of Fractures

Stress fractures frequently occur in the bones of the forefoot that extend from your toes to the middle of your foot. Stress fractures are like tiny cracks in the bone surface. They can occur with sudden increases in training, such as running or walking for longer distances or times; improper training techniques; or changes in training surfaces. Most other types of fractures extend through the bone. They may be stable with no shift in bone alignment or displaced with bone ends that no longer line up. These fractures usually result from trauma, such as dropping a heavy object on your foot, or from a twisting injury. If the fractured bone does not break through the skin, it is called a closed fracture.

Several types of fractures occur to the forefoot bone on the side of the little toe (fifth metatarsal). Ballet dancers may break this bone during a misstep or fall from a pointe position. A ankle-twisting injury may tear the tendon that attaches to this bone and pull a small piece of the bone away. A more serious injury in the same area is a Jones fracture, which occurs near the base of the bone and disrupts the blood supply to the bone. This injury may take longer to heal or require surgery.

Signs and Symptoms

Pain, swelling, and sometimes bruising are the most common signs of a fracture in the foot. If you have a broken toe, you may be able to walk, but this usually aggravates the pain. If the pain, swelling, and discoloration continue for more than two or three days, or if pain interferes with walking, something could be seriously wrong; see a doctor as soon as possible. If you delay getting treatment, you could develop persistent foot pain and arthritis. You could also change the way you walk (your gait), which could lead to the formation of painful calluses on the bottom of your foot or other injuries.

Diagnosis

The doctor will examine your foot to pinpoint the central area of tenderness and compare the injured foot to the normal foot. You should tell the doctor when the pain started, what you were doing at the time, and if there was any injury to the foot. X-rays will show most fractures, although a bone scan may occasionally be needed to identify stress fractures. Usually, the doctor will be able to realign the bone without surgery, although in severe fractures, pins or screws may be required to hold the bones in place while they heal.

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

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