The foot is comprised of 26 bones and any of them can be broken and leave you unable to walk. While each fracture will be unique to the person and the circumstance, treatment for a broken foot is relatively standard.
With a broken foot, the break can be closed (meaning the break does not pierce through the skin) or compound (part of the bone has broken through the skin’s surface). Additionally, a broken foot can be displaced or nondisplaced. A displaced fracture is where the broken bone has one or more bone fragments that have moved out of alignment and may have splintered off. A nondisplaced fracture is where the bone remains aligned and no parts have splintered out of place.
Let’s talk about how recovery works after suffering a broken foot.
Broken Foot Causes
A foot fracture is most often caused by direct injury or trauma to the foot, which can result from:
- High impact activities involving running and jumping
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Blunt force trauma
Additionally, stress fractures in the bones of the feet can develop from repetitive stress and overuse with prolonged walking, running, and exercising without adequate rest or supportive footwear.
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of a broken foot include:
- High impact activities
- Unsupportive footwear
- Vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency
- Altered foot and ankle alignment, including flat feet (pes planus) or very high arches (pes cavus)
A broken foot can cause changes in the physical appearance of your foot as well as problems with your movement. Broken foot symptoms include:
- Pain that can either occur suddenly or develop gradually
- Restricted range of motion and mobility of the joints of your toes, foot, and ankle
- Difficulty bearing weight on your foot
- Swelling in the ankle, foot, or toes
- Foot bruising and discoloration
- Altered gait pattern
- Poor balance
Diagnosis: Imaging Tests
If your signs and symptoms suggest a break or fracture, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following imaging tests.
Most foot fractures can be detected visually on an X-ray. Stress fractures often do not show up on X-rays until the break actually starts healing.
- Bone Scan
For a bone scan, a technician will inject a small amount of radioactive material into a vein. The radioactive material is attracted to your bones, especially the parts of your bones that have been damaged. Damaged areas, including stress fractures, show up as bright spots on the resulting image.
- Computerized Tomography (CT)
A CT scan is often used to quickly inspect a patient’s foot after an accident in order to identify traumatic internal injuries. A Foot CT scan may help diagnose (find): A CT scan of the foot allows physicians to examine bones, soft tissues, and joints to determine whether there are any damages, fractures, or any further abnormalities.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI of the soft tissues of the foot visualizes the fat cushions of the sole, heels, fingers and can show swelling, foci of infiltration and inflammation. In addition, an image of all the muscles of the back and plantar part of the foot, all tendons and tendon ligaments, blood vessels and nerves are obtained.
Many people assume that a broken toe will be treated much differently than a heel fracture, but you may be surprised how similar treatment is for foot fractures, especially if you are dealing with a non-displaced fracture. As the name implies, a non-displaced fracture is one in which the bones do not shift greatly out of place at the fracture site. In other words, the bones are still aligned and should heal back together without any surgical intervention. Displaced fractures occur when the bones fracture in such a way that it is unlikely they will reform correctly without an operation.
We will cover the standard treatment pattern for both types of fractures below. Here is how you can expect to treat your broken foot.
- Visit a Foot Specialist
The way your foot is structured, the way it works, and the way it affects other body areas (such as your back) add to its complexity. A foot and ankle surgeon has the in depth knowledge to diagnose and treat conditions of this complex part of the body and works with your overall healthcare team to ensure you are receiving the best care possible for your foot and ankle conditions.
- Rest/Foot Protection
The next most common step in treating a foot fracture is to rest the injured foot and keep it protected from additional stress. Sometimes you can do this without any special medical equipment, other times you will be given crutches, a walking boot or another limited weight-bearing device. Either way, you will be told to rest the foot and refrain from putting full pressure on it as swelling subsides and healing begins.
- Ice and Elevate
Another helpful treatment technique is to elevate your foot and ice the area a couple of times each day. These two things will help to decrease swelling in the area, which will allow blood to flow more easily to and from the foot. This healthy blood will help to speed up the healing process, so you’ll want to use these two techniques to help control swelling after your injury.
Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Avoid naproxen sodium and ibuprofen, which some doctors believe have the potential to delay the healing process with bone injuries.
- Physical Therapy
In many instances, physical therapy is prescribed as you work your way back from a foot fracture. This will help ensure you regain range of motion and strength in the affected area, especially if you have been limited weight bearing for some time. These muscles can atrophy, and if you do not work to help your foot heal, you could be at risk for another injury. Physical therapy, or at a minimum some stretching exercises, are common as patients work their way back from a foot fracture.
If you have a displaced fracture, meaning the two ends of the fracture are not aligned, your doctor may need to manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions — a process called reduction. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you have, you may need a muscle relaxant, a sedative or even a general anesthetic before this procedure.
In some cases, an orthopedic surgeon may need to use pins, plates or screws to maintain proper position of your bones during healing. These materials may be removed after the fracture has healed if they are prominent or painful.
Average Healing Time for a Broken Foot
In general, the healing time for a broken foot ranges from 6 to 12 weeks.
How quickly a foot fracture heals depends on the fracture type, your age and your overall health. For example, a complex fracture with a displaced bone or broken skin could take longer to heal than a simple fracture with no displacement or open wound.
In addition, younger people, especially children, heal faster than older adults. Underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, can slow healing time. Smoking does as well.
Ask Your Doctor
A fracture can be painful and can lead to significant functional loss and disability. Depending on the severity of the injury, the loss may be temporary or permanent. Working to gain mobility and strength after a fracture should be your main goal after a fracture. Physical therapy can help you return to optimum functional mobility as quickly as possible.
To learn more about bone health or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800-698-1280.