Nearly one fourth of all the bones in your body are in your feet. A broken or fractured bone in your forefoot or in one of your toes is often painful, but it is rarely disabling. Most of the time, these injuries heal without operative treatment.
There are two types of foot fractures: stress fractures and general bone fractures. Stress fractures usually occur in the bones of the forefoot extending from the toes to the middle of the foot. Stress fractures are like tiny cracks in the bone surface. They can happen with sudden increases in exercise (such as running or walking for longer distances or times), improper training techniques, or a change in surfaces. Most other types of fractures extend through the bone and are called bone fractures. They may be stable, in which case there is no shift in bone alignment, or displaced, in which case the bone ends no longer line up properly.
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. If the fracture does break through the skin, it is called an open fracture.
Because of the complex structure of the foot, there are some other, more specific types of fractures. For example, the fifth metatarsal, known as the little or pinky toe, is susceptible to a variety of different fractures. The relationship between the ankle and the foot can be compromised by an ankle-twisting injury, which may tear the tendon that attaches to this bone and pull a small piece of the bone away. A more serious injury in the area of the fifth metatarsal is known as a Jones fracture, which occurs near the base of the bone and disrupts its blood supply. This injury may take longer to heal or may require surgery.
Be sure to seek medical attention for any suspected foot fracture.
Causes of Fractures
- Crush injuries, when a heavy object falls on your foot, can break the bones of the midfoot or toes
- Direct blow to the foot
- Jumping or falling from a height can break the heel bone (calcaneus) if you land on your feet
- Participating in sports--especially basketball, football, and gymnastics
- Running over extended periods of time, potentially leading to stress fractures
- Twisting the foot or ankle (also see our Ankle Sprain page)
Symptoms of Fractures
- Difficulty walking on the affected foot leading to limping
- Pain, although people with neuropathy, who have nerve damage, may not feel the pain alerting them to the fracture; if you are experiencing some of the symptoms associated with neuropathy, you may not note an injury, which, left untreated, could become seriously infected
Treatments for Fractures
While we recommend that you visit New Orleans Podiatry Associates any time you experience foot pain or a foot injury, some minor fractures can often heal themselves with RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- Rest: Stay off the injured foot as much as possible until you can see a podiatrist to evaluate it and properly diagnose your injury. Putting pressure on an injured foot by walking or running can often make the injury worse.
- Ice: Apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible for 15-20 minutes at a time every 3-4 hours for the first 48 hours after the injury or after you have noticed pain.
- Compression: Tightly wrap an elastic bandage around the affected area, but do not wrap it so tightly that you reduce or cut off circulation to your foot.
- Elevation: Elevate your foot on pillows or cushions at a height above that of your heart when you're lying down. Doing so decreases swelling.
More serious fractures require immediate medical attention. Open fractures always require immediate medial attention since a tear in the skin exposes your body to infections. New Orleans Podiatry Associates offers urgent foot care during our normal business hours, but you should call an emergency room if you experience an open fracture when we are closed.
Treatments depend upon the type of fracture:
- Alignment of the broken bone segments may be necessary to get the bone to heal properly. If a broken bone cannot be aligned properly, surgery is often necessary.
- Broken toes are often taped next to unbroken adjacent ones. Stiff shoes or boots and crutches are often required until the broken bone heals, which can take 4-6 weeks.
- Use of metal plates and/or screws to stabilize the bone so it may heal
Prevention of Fractures
- Keeping your home and yard free of items on the floor or ground that make it more likely for you to trip
- Maintaining a healthy weight, as being overweight or obese places additional strain on the feet
- Replacing athletic shoes annually and replacing running shoes every 300-400 miles
- Warming up prior to activity or exercise
- Watching your step when you walk outdoors
- Wearing protective shoes in the workplace, especially if you work in an area with heavy equipment
- Wearing well-fitting shoes properly
For more information on fracture treatment, call New Orleans Podiatry Associates in New Orleans, LA, at (504) 897-3627. For the Metairie, LA, location, please call (504) 457-2300.