What is a stubbed toe?
A stubbed toe is a type of injury. It happens when you accidentally bump your toe against an object. It’s common to stub your toe on a curb, door frame, table leg or another piece of furniture. Most stubbed toes feel better after a few minutes. But they can sometimes result in broken bones or damage to ligaments and soft tissues in your foot.
Rest and pain relief medications help most stubbed toes get better. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may need to see your provider for an evaluation. To prevent a stubbed toe, wear proper shoes and avoid walking or running barefoot.
How common is a stubbed toe?
Stubbed toes are extremely common. Nearly everyone stubs their toe from time to time. Most often, this injury affects your big toe or your pinky toe (your little toe). But you can stub any toe on your foot.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a stubbed toe?
This common injury happens when you bang your toe forcefully against an object. It usually happens when you’re running or walking without paying attention to where you’re going. You may bang it against a piece of furniture, door frame, step, curb or sidewalk, or even another person.
What are the symptoms of a stubbed toe?
The first sign of a stubbed toe is pain, which can be severe. The pain is usually intense, sharp and sudden, occurring the moment you hit your toe. Your toe might throb, and the pain might radiate (spread) to other toes or all over your foot.
Even if you haven’t broken or sprained your toe, stubbing it can be very painful. This is because your toes contain several nerves and they don’t have much fat to cushion them when they’re injured.
The pain might get better in a few minutes, or it might linger or worsen. Wearing a shoe might be painful or uncomfortable. In addition to pain, you may also have:
- Bleeding from your nailbed or under your toenail (if you injured the nail).
- Bruising, redness or discoloration of your skin.
- Discomfort when moving your toe or putting weight on your foot.
How do I know if I broke my toe when I stubbed it?
Generally, if pain from a stubbed toe goes away after an hour or two, you probably don’t have a bone fracture. If you can walk on it without limping, most likely it’s not broken. You may have broken your bone or have a joint dislocation if the pain:
- Is severe.
- Gets worse when you move your toe.
- Lasts longer than a day or two.
Signs of a broken toe also include:
- A bend or deformity in your toe. It might stick out to the side, down or up.
- Bleeding or injury to your nailbed.
- Inability to move it, walk on it or put weight on it.
- Numbness or weakness in your toe joint.
- Severe or lingering bruising or swelling. Your toe’s skin may look blue, purple or red.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are stubbed toes diagnosed?
Your provider will examine your toe and ask about your symptoms. They will also ask about the injury, including when and where you stubbed your toe.
If a stubbed toe is causing severe pain or you have signs of a more serious injury, your provider may order an imaging study. You may need an X-ray to check for bone fractures. Or your provider may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if they think you may have injured your foot ligaments. Ligaments are soft tissues that connect bones to other bones.
Management and Treatment
How do I treat a stubbed toe?
Right after you stub your toe, try gently massaging the injured area. Doing so can relieve pain by increasing blood flow to your toe. You can take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. To treat a stubbed toe, you should use the RICE method. RICE stands for:
- Rest: Stay off your feet to allow your toe time to heal.
- Ice: Apply ice or a cold compress every 20 minutes to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Compression: Try wrapping your foot in an elastic bandage to decrease swelling.
- Elevation: Rest with your toe elevated above your heart. This position reduces swelling.
You may also try “buddy taping” to support your injured toe. Using athletic tape, hold your injured toe and the toe next to it together and wrap tape around them both. This technique helps your toe heal with the support of another toe. If you think you may have broken your toe, it’s important to see your provider for an evaluation before attempting to tape your toe.
Your provider may recommend wearing a walking boot for several weeks to allow your toe to heal. You may need physical therapy to recover. Severe injuries may require surgical repair.
How can I prevent a stubbed toe?
To avoid this type of injury, you should wear shoes. Walking or running barefoot (or in flip-flops) increases the chance of a stubbed toe. Wear closed-toed shoes that provide adequate protection if you happen to bang your toe against something.
Even when you’re in a hurry, try to be careful. Consider using a night light to avoid stubbing your toe on furniture or other objects in the dark.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a stubbed toe?
Most stubbed toes aren’t serious injuries. Swelling and pain usually get better in a few minutes or hours. But some stubbed toes can result in broken bones or injuries to soft tissues. Untreated, the bone can heal improperly, causing long-term pain and trouble walking.
If you damaged or cut your nail when you stubbed your toe, your nail can get infected. A nail infection (paronychia) causes redness, pain, fever and inflammation. In very severe cases, your bone can get infected (osteomyelitis) and cause the bone tissue to die.
When should I see my healthcare provider about a stubbed toe?
After stubbing your toe, see your provider if you have:
- Changes in skin color, including severe bruising or redness, or if skin in the area looks unusually pale.
- Difficulty walking on it or putting weight on your toe or foot.
- Numbness or weakness in your toe or foot (this might mean you’ve injured the nerves).
- Pain or swelling that’s severe or doesn’t go away after a few hours.
- Signs of infection in your nailbed, such as redness, pus, itching, bleeding or swelling. See your provider if your nail becomes thick, discolored or falls off.
- If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system and you injured your nail while stubbing your toe, talk to your provider. People with these conditions are more likely to get infections in their toes and feet.
See your provider immediately if your toe looks deformed, crooked or bent at an unnatural angle. If you can see the bone after stubbing your toe, get medical help right away.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A stubbed toe can range from an annoying event to a serious injury. Pain and swelling from most stubbed toes usually gets better in a few minutes or hours. But it can take longer for your toe to heal if you hit it especially hard. If pain or swelling lingers for a day or more, see your provider. They will evaluate your toe and foot for signs of a broken bone or soft tissue injury. To avoid a nail infection, keep the area clean and see your provider if you have bleeding or discoloration. Wear shoes and use a night light to prevent another stubbed toe.
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