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How do I know if my toe is broken or just bruised? © Dan Bright
© Dan Bright

How do I know if my toe is broken or just bruised?

Published: 24th April, 2022 at 18:00
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Sometimes a stubbed toe can really, really hurt.

A broken toe is usually painful, swollen, red or bruised, and difficult to walk on. If the break is severe, the toe may stick out at an angle, or the bone may poke through the skin.


In reality, it’s quite difficult to know if a toe is broken, bruised or sprained without an X-ray. However, if the toe is in normal alignment (not bent out of normal position), and it’s not your big toe that’s affected, then an X-ray won’t usually be done. In reality, the treatment isn’t that different.

Whether the toe is bruised or broken, the key things you can do at home are: take regular painkillers to ease the pain and swelling; rest the foot and keep it elevated; avoid walking as much as possible; hold an ice pack or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to the toe for up to 10 minutes every couple of hours; wear comfortable shoes; and strap the broken toe.

This means putting a small piece of cotton wool between your injured toe and the toe next to it, then taping them together to support the injured toe. If it’s your big toe that you suspect is broken, it’s worth going to Accident & Emergency (A&E) as this may require an X-ray.

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Dr Nish Manek is a GP in London. She completed her medical degree at Imperial College and was runner-up in the University of London Gold Medal. Manek has also developed teaching courses for Oxford Medical School, and has penned articles for The Guardian and Pulse magazine.


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