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So, your big toe has just collided with the wall. Or you’ve dropped a full gallon of milk on your pinky toe. Sure, it hurts. A lot. But do you need to go see the podiatrist? The answer is: it depends on your other symptoms. Let’s take a closer look.

How do you stub your toe?

Any time you suddenly jam or hit your toe, you’ve sustained a ‘stubbing’ injury.

When you’ve stubbed your toe, you are likely to experience:

·         Intense pain (sharp or dull), that may spread to other parts of your foot.

·         Pain when trying to put weight on the affected toe and/or foot.

Because your toes are full of nerve endings, and aren’t particularly padded, a stubbed toe is a very painful injury. Sometimes, it may also be serious—a hard jam can leave you with a sprained or broken toe. So how can you tell if you’ve done serious damage to your tootsies? Simply read on!

How can you tell if your toe is sprained or broken?

Unfortunately, diagnosing toe injuries at home can be awfully difficult. Sprains, fractures and bruises all present with similar symptoms. Here’s a good rule of thumb to go by: if your pain improves significantly within a few minutes of stubbing, chances are that you’re in the clear.

If, however, the pain doesn’t start to fade fairly soon, you could be dealing with a more serious injury.

If your toe is broken, you will feel pain and some or all of the following symptoms:

·         Swelling of the toe (and possibly some of your foot)

·         A change in the color of your toe (usually black and/or blue)

·         Your toe may change shape if you’ve broken and misaligned your bone

·         The toe will be difficult to move

·         You may lose feeling in your toe and/or foot

·         Your bone may be visible through your toe in the case of a severe fracture.

But what if your bone isn’t broken? Could your injury be serious enough to require medical care? Yes, it sure could! It’s possible to sprain your toe (injure the ligaments that connect your toe bones) or strain it (damage the tendons or muscles in your toe.) Symptoms of a sprained or strained toe are actually quite similar to a broken bone, and should always be examined by your podiatrist.

Should I be worried about bone bruises and toenail injuries?

Another possible toe-stubbing injury you could sustain is a bone bruise, an injury that doesn’t show up on an X-ray but that causes damage to the blood vessels deep within your toe. Though incredibly painful, bone bruises usually heal on their own in a few months. Resting and icing your foot may be necessary during your recovery period.

Like bone bruises, damage to your toenail may be very painful. Walking may be painful, and your toenail may change colors or even fall off in the weeks following your stubbing injury.

Signs that you’ve damaged your toenail include:

  • A crack in the nail
  • Blood underneath or around the edges of your nail
  • Pus under or around your nail

While not necessarily serious, damaged toenails can leave you vulnerable to infections, so you should see a doctor if your nail doesn’t return to normal within a day or two.

Preventing toenail infections

When your stubbed toe leaves a crack in your skin or nail, bacteria can make its way through the opening. In order to prevent infections, see your doctor to have the toe properly disinfected and covered, especially if you are diabetic or have a compromised circulatory system.

Watch your toes carefully for any of the following signs of infection:

·         Swelling

·         Redness

·         Pus

·         Thickening of the nail

·         Itching around the nail


All of these symptoms indicate it’s time to head in to the podiatrists office.

Treating a Stubbed Toe

Because stubbing your toe could result in serious injuries, you should rest and ice your foot immediately after impact. Wait an hour or so and, if your pain is still present, make an appointment to see your doctor. In some occasions, your toe stub could be severe enough to be a medical emergency.

If your toe has changed shape, the bone is visible through the skin, the pain is excruciating or you can’t stop your toe or nail from bleeding, don’t wait for an appointment. Come into our Elmhurst podiatry office right away—call first so we’re ready for you—and we’ll take care of your X-rays and injury care.

Meet Weil Foot & Ankle Institute

Weil Foot & Ankle Institute was founded in 1965, by Dr. Lowell Weil Sr, who was inspired by a need to progress the Foot & Ankle Care category into the future through innovation. As one of the first Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), Dr. Weil... Learn More »