A foot fracture, or broken foot, can affect any of the 26 different bones in each foot. Because these bones in your feet are so small, they can be easily damaged by sports injuries, falls and accidents, or subjected to the repetitive force and stress of weight-bearing activities.
All foot fractures, even minor ones, require a visit to a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
This article will describe common causes, types, symptoms, and treatments for foot fractures.
Cause of broken foot
The most common cause of foot fractures is a direct injury or trauma to the foot, which can be due to:
- High-impact activities involving running and jumping
- motor vehicle accident
- blunt force trauma
Additionally, stress fractures in the bones of the foot can develop as a result of repetitive stress and overuse, as well as long walks, runs, and exercise without adequate rest or supportive footwear.
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of a broken foot include:
- high impact activities
- unsupported footwear
- Insufficient or deficient vitamin D
- Changes in foot and ankle alignment, including flat feet (pes planus) or very high arches (pes cavus)
A broken foot can cause changes in the appearance of the foot and problems with movement. Symptoms of broken feet include:
- pain that may come on suddenly or develop gradually
- Unbearable weight on feet
- swollen ankles, feet, or toes
- Foot bruising and discoloration
- Limited range of motion and movement in the toes, feet and ankles
- Altered gait pattern
- poor balance
When to see a healthcare provider
A broken foot requires immediate medical attention. If you are involved in a car accident, fall, or impact injury and immediately experience foot pain and difficulty bearing weight, make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
See your doctor if your foot pain does not improve within a month.Your healthcare provider will evaluate for stress fractures or other conditions such as plantar fasciitis May develop over time due to repetitive strain injuries in the feet.
X-rays are the most common diagnostic test used to diagnose foot fractures. The Ottawa Ankle and Foot Rule is used as a screening measure to determine the need for an x-ray based on symptoms following an injury.
According to these rules, an X-ray of the foot is required if the patient has pain in the midfoot area and any of the following:
- Bone tenderness at the underlying fracture site (eg, at the base of the fifth root) metatarsal or midfoot navicular
- or immediately after the injury and in the emergency room or doctor’s office, the affected foot is unable to carry the weight of four steps
If the above symptoms are not present, X-rays are not needed because foot fractures are unlikely.
MRI is sometimes done to evaluate stress fractures, which are difficult to detect on traditional X-rays. MRI can describe bone edema, which may develop before full stress fractures develop.
Foot fractures most commonly refer to fractures of the metatarsal or tarsus, the two sets of bones in the foot that are located between the toes and heel.
The most common foot fractures include:
- Fracture of the first metatarsal of the big toe
- Four other toes metatarsal fractures
- Fifth metatarsal tuberosity fracture
- Jones fracture (proximal fifth metatarsal fracture)
- Tarsal fractures, most commonly navicular stress fractures
Metatarsal fractures account for 35% of all foot fractures and are most common in the fifth metatarsal, which connects the little toe. Approximately 80% of metatarsal fractures heal well with conservative treatment.
Other fractures involving the bones of the foot include:
- broken toe
- calcaneus (calcaneus) fracture
Toe fractures are the most common type of foot fracture.
Treatment will vary depending on the type of fracture you have, but usually involves wearing some type of protective cast, boots, or support shoes to protect the foot while the fracture heals.
During your recovery, the amount of weight your feet can handle will increase. You may also need physical therapy to improve your foot and ankle mobility, strength, and balance. Vitamin D supplementation may also be recommended to help improve bone healing.
Metatarsal fractures are usually treated with a splint or cast while avoiding weight bearing on the affected foot for at least four to six weeks. After your splint or cast is removed, you’ll be given four to six weeks of walking boots to limit the pressure on your foot as it continues to heal.
Jones fractures typically require longer casts while avoiding weight bearing for six to eight weeks. Athletes and active individuals may require surgery for Jones fractures to promote healing and return to sports and physical activity.
Navicular fractures are treated with a protective splint or cast and avoid weight bearing for six to eight weeks. If the fracture is severe or does not heal, surgery may be necessary to insert metal screws to hold the bone in place, followed by non-weight bearing for the first six weeks after surgery.
Fractured toes usually require minimal treatment, with the broken toe being taped from one toe to the other, while wearing rigid-soled shoes for four to six weeks. If your big toe is broken, you may need to wear walking boots for two to three weeks first, followed by hard-soled shoes for three to four weeks.
It usually takes six to eight weeks for the bone to heal, but this timeline can be longer, depending on the severity of the fracture. During the initial stages of recovery, you cannot put weight on your feet and will need to use a walker or crutches to heal broken foot fractures.
After the initial non-weight bearing period, you will gradually increase the weight you can put on your feet and may need to wear specialized boots or shoes. Certain types of foot fractures can take up to six months to heal adequately to support the weight-bearing and mobility needs of more active and athletic individuals.
Elevating your feet and applying ice can help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation during recovery. Over-the-counter pain relievers or those prescribed by your healthcare provider may also be used to help manage your pain, especially in the first few weeks after injury and/or surgery.
While many foot fractures are caused by injuries, which can be unpredictable, there are certain things you can do to help strengthen your foot. Preventive measures to avoid foot fractures include:
- Wear supportive shoes such as sneakers with proper arch support
- Change your sneakers regularly based on the frequency of your physical activity (every 6 to 12 months)
- Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise and physical activity over time
- Take adequate rest between exercise and training sessions
- Vitamin D supplementation
- If your feet start to hurt, see your doctor as soon as possible
Foot fractures can include the toes, heel, tarsus, or metatarsal, and are most commonly caused by impact injuries such as motor vehicle accidents or falls, or gradual overtime from repetitive activities such as running and jumping without adequate rest. Other factors, such as altered foot and ankle alignment, poor quality footwear, and insufficient or deficient vitamin D, can also increase the risk of foot fractures.
Most foot fractures require a period of non-weight bearing, and you must stay away from the injured foot to allow enough time to heal. During this time, you will wear specialized boots, shoes or casts to protect your feet and use a walker or crutches to help you get around. After the first few weeks of recovery, your healthcare provider will allow you to gradually increase your weight and build your strength and mobility.
Staying away from a broken foot is essential for it to heal properly. Standing and walking with a broken foot can increase stress on the fracture site, which can delay or even prevent fracture healing. During the first few weeks of recovery, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s guidelines, avoid weight-bearing activities and use specialized protective footwear to support your foot as it heals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you walk with a broken foot?
For most foot fractures, you will need to avoid full weight bearing for at least six to eight weeks for the fracture to heal. During this time, your foot will be put in a boot or cast and you will need to use crutches or a walker to get around.
Can a broken foot heal itself?
If it is not a serious fracture, a broken foot has the potential to heal on its own, as long as proper precautions are taken, such as immobilization with a cast or boot, and weight bearing is avoided during the initial stages of recovery.