Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
A sprained toe is commonly encountered by athletes, especially those who are in contact sports. But even with simple activities such as accidentally jamming your toe into something can lead to a sprained toe. A sprained toe is oftentimes mistaken for a broken toe, but the two are totally different.
In this article, we are going to discuss sprained toe, what causes it, signs and symptoms, treatment, and everything in between. (1, 2)
Image 1: A sprained toe with a reddish to bluish discoloration of the skin.
Picture Source: 2.bp.blogspot.com
Image 2: A sprained big toe with swelling and inflammation.
Picture Source: www.thetoedoctor.com
What causes a sprained toe?
The causes of a sprained toe vary. It could be due to a simple bump on a hard surface, walking for a long period of time, climbing uphill, or sport-related cause such as the one involved in activities like hockey, basketball, soccer, track and field, and the likes.
Anything that puts too much pressure on the toe can lead to a sprained toe. (2, 3)
Sprained Toe symptoms
- Pain and tenderness on the toe that gets worse with movement
- Bruising and discoloration of the toe
- The toe looks a bit dislocated
- The pain is contained in the entire toe and movement can make the pain evenly distributed to the rest of the toe
- The pain and swelling of the toe gets worst for 48 hours after the injury (2, 3, 4)
Is it really a sprain or a broken toe?
How do you know if you broke your toe or sprained it? You need to differentiate a sprain from a broken bone. If the toe is sprained, it means that there is a significant amount of pain but the bone is still intact.
In the case of a broken bone, the bone is broken into pieces, which makes the pain so intense. Signs and symptoms of a broken toe include:
Photo 4: Distinguishing a sprained toe from a broken toe.
Picture Source: i.ytimg.com
Image 5: A toe fracture takes time to heal.
Picture Source: pafootdoctors.com
- Throbbing toe pain
- Swelling in the injury site (5)
- The skin on the injury site is bruised
- Moving the toe causes intense pain
- The toe is dislocated (4)
If you are uncertain as to whether or not you have a broken or sprained toe, the best thing to do is to see a doctor. He will conduct a series of test to thoroughly examine your toe and eventually be able to determine what type of injury you have. (4, 5)
How to treat a sprained toe?
A minor sprained toe can be treated right in the comfort of home. When treating a sprained toe, the RICE formula should be used. RICE stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate.
Photo 6: The RICE method is the standard management approach for injury.
Picture Source: www.worldofvolley.com
- Rest – If you have a sprained toe, it is important to keep the toe rested. Any unnecessary movement should be totally avoided. Standing for a long period of time and walking can cause intense pain. The goal here is to avoid putting too much pressure on the sprained toe to hasten the healing process.
- Ice – A cold compress should be put on the sprained toe to reduce inflammation and swelling. It can also help alleviate pain and discomfort as the cold numbs the sprained area.
- Compress – It is done to limit the swelling. However, compression should be done the right way. If you overdo it, it could restrict the normal flow of blood and delay the healing process.
- Elevate – The sprained toe should be kept elevated to significantly reduce the swelling, inflammation, and pain. (5, 6, 7)
Aside from the RICE method, there are also other means to treat and manage a sprained toe. They are the following:
- In case of severe pain, you can take over the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen. It will not only alleviate the pain but will also reduce the inflammation.
- Provide a bit of support to the sprained toe. There are various ways to do so like taping the sprained toe to the toe next to it and wearing a stiff soled shoe.
- Perform simple toe exercises to promote proper circulation of blood. Sprained toe exercises include the following:
- Vertical toe raise
- Horizontal toe press
- Vertical toe press (7)
Image 7: A sprained toe taped to the adjacent toe.
Picture Source: www.flightbasketball.com
Photo 8: Recommended exercises for sprained foot and toes.
Picture Source: www.summitmedicalgroup.com
What to keep in mind
When performing an exercise for the toe, it is important to do it right and light. Perform these exercise procedures with utmost caution and should be done in a gentle manner. Make sure you keep your sprained toe rested but light exercises are highly encouraged to hasten the healing process.
The purpose of the toe exercise is to rehabilitate the toe and eventually be able to bring it back to its normal condition.
Do not immediately perform the exercises mentioned above right after the injury or else you will end up causing further harm to the sprained toe. You must give ample time for your toe to relax and rest. The best time to perform toe exercise is a week after the injury. (8, 9, 10)
Sprained Toe recovery time
The recovery period for a sprained toe depends on how severe the injury is and what measures you take to hasten the healing process. A mildly sprained toe takes over a week to heal while moderate to severe sprain takes longer to heal. Ideally, it would take six weeks for the sprain to heal completely. If the sprained toe didn’t show improvement after six weeks’ time, then you need to consult your doctor.
A sprained toe may look like a mild injury but it could lead to something worst if left untreated. Consulting a doctor that specializes in toe-related injury is a must, especially if you are uncertain about the nature of the injury.
The doctor will thoroughly assess your injury and will perform all the necessary tests and procedures to accurately diagnose your condition. The doctor will come up with a treatment plan based on the result of the assessment and tests. (1, 5, 8, and 10)