Unfortunately, our feet and toes are easy targets for fractures. They have lots of bones, many of which are delicate. And the possibilities for problems are seemingly endless: you could drop something on your foot, or bump into or kick something that you probably shouldn’t. You may also overdo it while exercising or hitting the athletic field.
So, there are lots of different ways you could break your foot or ankle. And there are also many different types of fractures. It’s important to recognize the type of foot fracture that you’ve sustained, as different injuries will require different treatment plans. Given that fact, just keep reading for my guide to the many different types of foot fractures.
How Do I Know the Extent of My Foot Fracture?
There are so many different terms we use to describe broken bones in your feet, toes and ankles. If you have an ‘open fracture,’ it means that your skin is broken over the sight of your broken bone, so that you can see the injury; if your fracture is ‘closed,’ however, you can’t see the broken bone.
Have a ‘displaced fracture?’ That means your broken bone has shifted out of alignment at the site of the fracture; if it’s non-displaced, alignment won’t be an issue during your healing process. And that means you are far less likely to require surgery for your broken bone.
So, those are some basic terms you need to understand. Now let’s look at the bones you may have broken. First, there are your toes: each one is composed of two or three phalanges (your big toe has two, all the others have three.) All your toes are also connected to your forefoot by bones metatarsals. (You may have heard of the famous Jones fracture, common in athletes, that impacts your fifth metatarsal bone.) Sometimes, you can tell right away where you’ve suffered a fracture. But, with these smaller foot and toe bones, that’s not always the case. Your pain may start in one bone, but impact the rest of your foot as you change your gait. In fact, you may even experience pain in your un-injured foot if you overcompensate when you walk.
Given all these possible injury points, self-diagnosing a broken foot can be very difficult. For that (and so many other) reasons, you really need to get a foot X-ray quickly if you suspect your injury may have resulted in a foot, toe or ankle fracture. For this reason, our office always has emergency appointments available during the week. We have digital X-ray on-sight so you will have the X-ray taken, read by the doctor, and have a treatment plan all set in one visit to our office. No need to go to the urgent care, take an X-ray, hope it gets read, and then follow up with a specialist later to start the treatment plan. Our office offers a one-stop complete option.
How Do We Treat Broken Foot, Toe and Ankle Bones?
When it comes to treatment, the plan will depend on the location and type of your fracture. With a broken toe, casting and surgery aren’t usually necessary. We do, however, need to stabilize the fracture in order to guarantee proper healing and avoid long-term complications.
If, however, you’ve fractured one of your toe joints, or any other joints in your feet, surgery may be required. If the joint bones don’t align properly as they heal, your risk of developing arthritis at that joint will be significantly higher.
Now, let’s talk immobilization, the most common way to treat foot and ankle fractures. Sometimes, all you’ll need is a simple splint: that’s typically how we treat broken toes, which take up to two months to heal in typical situations.
When your fracture is open or displaced, we will almost always have to perform surgery. We will make sure your bones are aligned, then we’ll hold the pieces in place with screws or wires to make sure they heal properly.
Now, let’s re-examine those metatarsals: they are very susceptible to stress fractures. Stress fractures, which are just small cracks in your bone, are caused by repetitive activity or pressure, and are known to take many athletes "out of the game."
Stress fractures are very common when you take up a new workout regimen or increase the intensity of your regular exercise routine. Think of this injury like cracking the shell of an egg: when you first tap the edge of that shell, you will see a small crack. That crack is the equivalent of a stress fracture. But if you keep on tapping, that egg will ultimately crack in half. That would be a complete fracture or "broken bone."
Symptoms of a stress fracture include:
- Localized pain along a bone
- Diffuse swelling
- Pain with weight bearing
- Inability to continue running or exercising
The most important aspect of treatment of a stress fracture is early detection. The sooner you stop "overusing" the area and seek treatment, the faster you’ll heal. We can diagnose your injury with X-rays and, on occasion, an MRI. We treat stress fractures with immobilization, rest, anti- inflammatory medication, and icing.
Of course, if you ignore a stress fracture, or have a more serious injury, you’ll need a more involved treatment plan. You may have to take all pressure off your foot in order to allow healing, which may mean crutches or a knee scooter. Of course, with all of these treatment methods, you will likely have to switch up your footwear (if footwear is even possible.)
What to Wear While Your Foot Fracture Heals
When you’ve got a toe, foot or ankle fracture, you’re going to have to switch up your foot wear. And that’s not just to make room for your cast or splint. Often, you need to make modifications to your shoes so you can keep motion away from the fracture site, especially as you walk.
Keep in mind that, if you have a cast, or if you have a lot of swelling as a result of your fracture, it may be difficult to get a shoe on at all. In those cases, you may want to wear a surgical shoe to keep rigid pressure around the fracture site, and to absorb shock and prevent additional pain. With other injuries, you may prefer a walking boot. Your podiatrist will help you decide the safest options for your foot wear choices.
When you’ve got a foot fracture, knowledge is power: you’ve got to know what you’re dealing with in order to pick the proper treatment plan. And, remember: the only way to diagnose a foot fracture is with an X-ray. So see your podiatrist as soon as you hurt your foot: the earlier you begin treatment, the faster you’ll be back on both feet again!