Stubbed Toe? Is it Serious? | Symptoms & What to Do

Stubbed Toe? Is it Serious?


That hard smack into the wall is just a stubbed toe—no big deal, right?

Hmmm, maybe, but don’t be too sure.  A serious toe stub can cause a sprain, a break, or a broken nail that is an invitation to infection.

Immediately following the stub, massage, or shake your foot to increase blood flow. If your injury is more serious gently tape the affected toe to the toe next to it; take over-the-counter pain relievers or use a numbing cream or spray; soak in warm water with Epsom salts.  For any kind of foot injury try the RICE approach: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.  Avoid putting weight on the injury and apply an ice pack (10-20 minutes). Wrap or bandage the area and elevate the foot above the heart while lying or sitting.

Here are some possibilities if it’s more painful than a simple stubbed toe:

Broken or fractured toe:

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling around the toe and into the foot
  • Discoloration (black and blue bruising)
  • A change in the shape of the toe due to a bone out-of-place
  • Trouble moving the toe
  • Significant pain while walking or putting weight on the toe
  • Pain that worsens over several hours
  • Loss of feeling in the toe or foot
  • A visible bone poking into the skin due to trauma

Sprain or strain:

An injury to the ligaments that connect to the bones of the toe is a sprain; a strain is an injury to the muscle or tendon. Mild strains and sprains might only stretch a tendon, muscle, or ligament but more severe injuries can tear the tissue.

Bone bruise:

A bone bruise is a deep bruise that injures blood vessels in or around the bone; although they don’t show up on X-rays your doctor should be able to diagnose the injury, especially if you have stubbed your toe recently. Bone bruises are extremely painful but with rest and proper treatment, they generally heal on their own within a couple of months.

Toenail injuries:

A toenail injury can be very painful, especially if the nail breaks deep in the nail plate. If the injury bleeds, it may be painful to walk for several weeks. Sometimes the nail will fall off, either immediately after the injury, or weeks later. If you notice cracks in the nail, bleeding, swelling, or pus or fluid under the nail after stubbing your toe see your doctor immediately.  Nail injuries put you at risk for infection.

Subungual hematoma:

A subungual hematoma shows up as a spot of blood under the nail. Severe hematomas can cause large blood spots along with painful and intense pressure. Your nail might fall off as the hematoma subsides, a process that can take six to nine months to heal.

Toe infections:

Sometimes stubbing the toe allows bacteria to enter the skin and cause an infection. If your skin is broken, keep the toe clean and covered and see a doctor for infection symptoms. If you’re diabetic or have a weakened immune system, you may be more vulnerable to toe and foot infections. Infections along the nail are called paronychia.

Symptoms include:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Tenderness or pain
  • Fluid or pus under the skin and around the nail
  • Discoloration or thickening of the nail


Overall, keep an eye on the toe, and if the pain doesn’t go away in a day or so talk to your doctor.  Be particularly aware of pain that radiates from the toe to the rest of your foot or your ankle, or pain that gets worse when you put weight on your foot.

If you are suffering from a stubbed toe with persistent pain, make an appointment with one of our podiatrists who can diagnose exactly what’s going on. Call 336-375-6990 or visit to request an appointment.


Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in our blogs, videos, or in any other content or linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For a full disclaimer, please click here.