Broken Toe vs Sprained Toe: What’s The Difference?
Anyone who has tiptoed ever-so-quietly through the house at night, and ungraciously rammed their toe into the coffee table, knows the excruciating pain that goes along with having a broken or sprained toe. However, what many fail to do is properly address their injury and if they do, oftentimes it is mistaken for the wrong type of injury. A broken toe and a sprained toe are two totally different issues and require two different methods of treatment. Let’s look at the difference and what you need to do when you have a ‘toe-tally’ unexpected accident.
Here are the key symptoms associated with a broken toe:
- Difficulty moving the toe
- Tenderness and swelling
- Burning or tingling
Here are the key symptoms associated with a sprained toe:
- Pain while moving the toe
- Limited joint movement
- Tenderness and swelling
- Throbbing in the toe
Notice that several of the symptoms are the same for both injuries, and on many occasions, it may be difficult to tell the difference; it just simply hurts. When comparing the two, however, there are a couple of key differentiators that are indicative to which injury is most likely present.
For example, bleeding is commonly associated with a broken toe, not necessarily from a cut, but from trauma to the toe. Extensive bleeding or the appearance of a hematoma often means the toe is broken. Secondly, a broken toe in most cases is nearly impossible to move at all, versus a sprained toe when moving the toe is painful but possible.
Immediately after spraining or breaking your toe, you can apply these treatments while waiting to get in with your doctor:
- Stop the swelling! Rest, ice, compression, and elevation, aka the RICE treatment, decreases swelling that occurs when spraining or breaking your toe.
- Immobilize the toe. Toes rarely require casts, which unfortunately makes them difficult to immobilize. Before you head to the doctor, eliminate putting weight on that foot and secure your injured toe to the toe beside it. This can be done using a Buddy Splint, which is when you wrap tape around the toes to hold them in place and limit mobilization. Be sure not to wrap the toes too tightly and place gauze between the toes for cushion and to avoid trapping moisture.
- Give your injury space and room. Don’t wear tight shoes that put pressure on the injured toe, but wear a stiff sole that prevents the toe from bending too much if you must walk on it. It’s best to stay off that foot until it can be seen by a podiatrist to prevent further damage to the joint.
- Decrease your pain. In many cases, a simple non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can reduce the pain of a sprained or broken toe. Don’t try to tough it out; remember that these medications also reduce inflammation and swelling in addition to pain management.
Podiatrists generally treat these injuries similarly. An X-ray is usually done to get a good look at the injury to determine if the toe is broken or not. If it is broken, your doctor can often immobilize the toe more securely. If a fracture is severe enough and involves the big toe, a cast or surgery may be required to ensure that the toe heals properly. A broken or sprained toe usually heals in four to six weeks with sufficient treatment and rest.
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