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When a Stubbed Toe Is Serious

Most of the time, a stubbed toe is just a painful experience that will pass. Sometimes, however, stubbing a toe can be quite serious, requiring medical attention.
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We've all stubbed a toe, and does it hurt like hell...

Most of the time, the stubbed toe is just a painful experience that will pass. Sometimes, however, stubbing a toe can be quite serious, requiring medical attention.

Some can stub a toe so hard that it causes a bone fracture, and can visually see a positional deformity requiring the toe to be manually relocated. Involvement of the toenail (with bleeding), or a cut in the skin are urgent matters, suggesting the bone could have been pushed through the skin.

The pinky toe (fifth toe) is the most commonly injured toe. Big toe injuries occur quite frequently. A common injury story is getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and not turning on the light, and kicking furniture. Some also report flip-flop stubbing injuries.

Besides immediate pain, the toe and the foot can become quite swollen. It may even be difficult to put weight on the foot. Bruising can occur focally on the toe, or extend onto the foot. The toe can become black and blue over the course of a few days, indicating a more involved injury.

2012-09-23-StubbedtoeDrBlitz2.jpgWhen the Toenail Is Lifted and Bleeding...

Involvement of the toenail should be inspected closely by a health care practitioner because it may be an indicator of a cut to the skin under the nail -- which can expose the bone and lead to infection. A collection of blood under the toenail will turn the nail black and blue, and sometimes this needs to be surgically drained. Often, a little loosening of the nail is of little concern, especially towards the tip of the toe. However, bleeding and loosening at the base of the nail is more serious, as this area is very close to the joint and can be an indicator that the joint has been compromised (see picture) -- a surgical emergency.

Is the Toe Broken?

An X-ray is needed to diagnose a fracture. A toe pointing in a different direction is a good indicator of a fracture. Fractures can be simple, involving a just a crack in the bone, or can be a through-and-through break. When the toe is an abnormal position, this often needs to be physically put back into place. Some people do this on their own (not recommended), but should be done by a health care provider. Most of the time, the fractured toe is splinted in place with surgical tape until the bone mends, a process that takes six weeks. Some fractures require surgery to stabilize the fracture fragments and realign the toe.


Should you stub your toe, don't simply neglect your injury and get it looked at.

Have you ever stubbed your toe? Tell us about it.

-- Dr. Blitz

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