Broken Foot: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Broken Foot Overview

A broken foot can be extremely painful, keeping you off your feet for several weeks. You could qualify for free private medical treatment and free physio fractured foot aftercare which could help speed up your recovery considerably and help the rehabilitation process.

This guide provides detailed information on the physiology of your foot, the different types of fractures and how they are caused as well as the diagnosis and treatment of this type of injury. To find out more about broken foot injuries please click on the Select a Section below and find out whether you qualify for free private medical care and free private physiotherapy in your area.

Select a Section

Broken Foot Definition

Fractured foot

x-ray of foot

A broken foot is a potentially serious injury that can present in several ways depending on the cause of the injury, the bones you break, your age and general health .This informative guide will provide all the information you need on the causes, symptoms and treatment of broken foot injuries and the steps you can take to help your recovery.

These injures are usually most likely to occur in patients who take part in sports or other high-impact activities. A sprain injury occurs when tissues in the foot become temporarily damaged or stretched. A stress fracture is a more serious injury and typically occurs when a tiny crack forms in one of the foot bones. If you have suffered a stress fracture, you will likely notice that the area is bruised or tender when touched.

Foot pain can also arise from problems with the nerves or from Metatarsalgia (an aching or burning sensation which worsens with movement) or an accumulation of fluid in the foot’s tissues. Osteoarthritis is another common cause of foot pain, where tissues surrounding the joints become swollen. Rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs because of the immune system attacking the joints, can also lead to pain in the foot.

Broken Foot Key Facts

The bones of the foot can be broken for several different reasons with a fractured foot injury. Typically, the causes of a this type of injury includes through a fall, overuse, crushing injuries and direct blows. Broken foot symptoms may present with pain, swelling, bruising and the inability to bear weight on the injured area.

Initial broken foot treatment typically consists of RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation. You may also be advised to use crutches to limit the amount of weight you bear on your injured foot.

For most broken bone in foot injuries , X-rays are effective in establishing an accurate diagnosis, although bone or CT scans are sometimes required for a more detailed images of the injury. Depending on which bone is fractured and the severity of the break, medical treatment can sometimes involve surgery, although many broken foot injuries are treated without surgical intervention.

As with most injuries, complications can occur as a result of suffering a broken foot, the most common being arthritis of the affected joint, infection due to an open wound and non-union at the site of the fracture. Broken foot recovery time depends on the extent of the injury and the type and number of bones involved.

How Many Bones Are There in a Foot?

Each foot contains 26 bones that, by the connections and support of thick ligaments, can withstand heavy daily forces such as walking, running and bearing weight. The foot joints are facilitated by tendons and muscles that allow the foot to flex and extend during walking and running. A summary of the anatomy of bones in the foot can be described as the following:

  • Your back of your foot includes the talus that makes up the bottom of the ankle joint. Here it joins up with the tibia (the shin bone) and the calcaneus (the heel bone)
  • Ligaments from the shin bone and the heel bone stretch across the joint of the ankle and attach to the fibula (the other shin bone) and tibia to maintain support and stability
  • Your midfoot is where supination and inversion of the foot takes place and is made up of the cuboid, the navicular and the three cuneiform bones. It is these motions that allow the foot’s sole to turn upwards and inwards

Five metatarsal bones connect each toe on the foot.

In medical terms, the bones of the toe are called “phalanges”, with two bones making up the big toe and three bones making up the smaller toes. The names of these toe bones are related to their location in the body: proximal being the closest to the centre of the body and distal being the furthest from the centre. The toenails are situated over the digital phalanges.

The foot’s arch is upheld by the plantar fascia. This is a thick band of fibrous tissue that stretches from the calcaneus to the metatarsal and stops the flattening of bones in the foot. In certain areas of the foot, two bones come together to create a joint. Each joint in the foot contains a unique structure that ensure stability.

Common foot injuries include foot fractures, sprained ligaments and muscle and tendon strains. Chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term) arthritis can also occur in the joints found in your foot.

What are the Most Common Causes of a Broken Foot?

A broken bone in the foot may be caused by an obvious injury such as falling from a height or something heavy landing on your foot. In some cases, however, a fractured foot can develop gradually over time due to continual stress, examples being when you jog or run as a way of taking daily exercise.

  • A broken foot makes up 10% of all broken bone injuries in the body, and the cause can usually provide an insight into which bone may have been negatively impacted in an accident or incident. For example, calcaneus (heel bone) fractures usually occur following a jump or a fall from a height, where the patient has landed on their feet. The impact of such a landing can also cause fractures in the lower spine, hip, knee and ankle
  • A fractured midfoot, or injuries involving the metatarsals and phalanges, are typically caused by a direct blow or a crushing injury. Incidents involving twisting can also cause fractured foot injuries. For example, the base of the fifth metatarsal can become fractured by the ankle rolling inward, which causes a bone fragment to be pulled away (avulsed) by the peroneus tendon

Have I Sustained a Broken Foot?

A broken foot is a painful injury. If you are asking yourself, “have I fractured my foot?” it is important to look out for any of the following broken foot symptoms:

  • Pain – which may make walking difficult
  • Limping
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness

Other common broken foot signs include:

  • Dislocation of the joints: This may present as a deformity in the foot, especially if the bones have been severely displaced.
  • Lack of pain: Pain may not be present with a broken foot injury in patients with existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or spinal cord injuries. In such cases, deformity, bruising and swelling may be the only indication of a potential broken bone.

What Are the Symptoms of a Broken Foot in a Toddler or Child?

Infants and toddlers may ignore the pain of injury and a broken foot may only be suspected when the child refuses to bear weight on the affected leg.

How is a Broken Foot Diagnosed?

A broken foot can be confirmed by a doctor using a number of diagnostic tools. If a fractured foot is suspected, a doctor would record a detailed account of how the injury took place. The cause of the injury is likely to provide an indication of what kind of fracture is present and whether any other injuries may be present. Previous medical history is also important when making a broken foot diagnosis, as patients with certain medical conditions may be at a higher risk of developing an infection following this type of foot injury.

The diagnostic procedure for a suspected broken foot may comprise of the following:

Physical assessment

  • Palpation of your broken foot allows the doctor or medical team to establish exactly where the pain is located, which can then be correlated to the image displayed on a fractured foot x-ray. This is a particularly effective course of diagnosis for children with a fractured bone in the foot as their bones may not yet have calcified making fractures harder to detect
  • An examination of the circulatory system which involves feeling certain areas of your foot for pulses and assessing how quickly blood flows back to the toe after it being squeezed
  • A neurological examination which includes looking for altered physical and visual sensations
  • Motor function assessment. If you have a broken foot, your doctor may ask you to move your injured foot during this examination to check tendon and muscle function. The range of motion in the foot can help the diagnostic procedure, however, if you have an obvious broken foot injury, your doctor may decide to keep your foot immobilised to prevent any further pain and damage being done

A series of broken foot x-rays

  • X-rays are often the most effective way to assess the status of foot bones and to confirm if a fracture is present. During an x-ray, three broken foot pictures are usually taken, although more specialist images may be required for a suspected fracture in the calcaneus
  • X-rays are not always required for simple broken toe injuries, as the result does not usually affect the course of treatment
  • For some broken foot injuries, such as a metatarsal stress fracture, x-rays may not be adequate to identify the injury. A bone scan may be carried out in such a case where a metatarsal stress fracture is suspected, but the x-ray results are normal
  • For a suspected broken midfoot or ankle, computerised tomography (CT) scans are sometimes used in the diagnostic procedure as these kinds of scans can display a more detailed image of the anatomy of the foot and the injury you sustained
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be required in more severe or complex broken foot injuries
  • A Lisfranc dislocation (the joint that connects the first three metatarsals and the three cuneiform bones) requires a CT scan to assess the numerous joins and bones that could be potentially injured

How Long Does it Take for a Broken Foot to Heal?

Providing your broken foot injury was correctly diagnosed and treated, you should be back on your feet in anything from 4 to 6 weeks, but this depends on the complexity and severity of the fracture.

With this said there are specific broken foot healing stages which occur from the moment your injury is diagnosed to your rehabilitation.

How is a Broken Foot Treated?

Following a broken foot injury, RICE, rest, ice, compression and elevation is usually initially recommended. With this said, fractured foot NHS treatment depends on the cause of the injury, the type of fracture and whether you suffer from any underlying medical conditions. Treatments for other broken foot injuries include the following:

  • Broken toes are typically treated by strapping the injured toe to the adjacent healthy toe, and fractured foot recovery time for this kind of injury is typically 4 – 6 weeks. For some patients, a broken foot walking boot is helpful in reducing the pain with walking during the healing process
  • Broken foot injuries that involve big toe fractures may require surgery. The decision whether to operate on this type of fracture is usually made a few days following the injury
  • Open fractures of the toe require treatment to reduce the risk of infection. During wound cleansing treatment, your doctor will assess the wound for any foreign objects and check for any lacerations in the tendons and other deep structures of the foot
  • Metatarsal fractures most often effectively heal without surgical treatment. (In the case of a first metatarsal fracture, where the bone fragments do not properly align, surgery to pin the fracture may be required). Usually, the injured foot is wrapped to ease discomfort and swelling. You may have to have you broken foot in a cast during the healing process
  • Stress fractures or “march fractures” usually involve breaks in the second and third metatarsals and were first recognised in army recruits who suddenly increased the amount and distance they walked. To help ease pain and discomfort, a fractured foot boot cast, a splint or walking boots may be required for this kind of injury

Fifth broken foot metatarsal injuries come in two types:

  • Avulsion fractures occur at the base of the bone and are typically treated using the same methods as other fractures of the metatarsals
  • Jones broken foot injuries in the shaft of the fifth metatarsal require surgery to heal in up to 50% of cases
  • Lisfranc foot fractures also require surgery for to effectively heal
  • For talus fractures (a fractured bone in the foot that occurs at the base of the ankle), treatment depends on the location of the fracture in the bone. As the anatomy of this joint often makes it difficult for a fracture to be identified, treatment often based on resting at home
  • Talar neck foot fractures (a break in the talus bone), is often slow to heal due to its poor blood supply. In simple cases, where no bone has been displaced, treatment typically involves wearing a fractured foot cast for 2 – 3 months. Surgery may be needed in a case where the bones has been displaced
  • A Shepherds fracture, sometimes known as a “football break”, occurs in the back of the talus and is most commonly seen in athletes who play sports that involve kicking. The most typical course of treatment for this type of fractured foot injury is immobilisation by a cast
  • Calcaneus fractures (fractures of the heel bone) tend to occur only when the foot has been placed under significant force. This type of broken foot injury is often classed as a medical emergency where an orthopaedic surgeon is consulted to decide whether surgical treatment is required. In a case such as this, a CT scan is typically carried out to examine the severity of the fracture and whether the line of the fracture enters the bone joint. Injuries involving the lower spine, hip, knee and ankle will also be looked for when this type of foot fracture occurs

Broken foot immobilisation along with prescribed medication is important in effectively reducing pain. Rice, ice and elevation can also help to ease discomfort and reduce swelling.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention for a Broken foot?

Most broken foot injuries will heal with enough rest, but serious or more complex fractures may require surgery. In most instances, the cause of the injury together with the severity of pain will prompt a patient to seek medical attention. You should seek medical help if you have injured your foot and you are finding it difficult to walk without limping. You should also seek urgent medical attention if your suspected broken foot injury includes an open wound, as open fractured foot injuries come with an increased risk of infection.

Other reasons to seek medical assessment include:

  • Altered sensations in the toes, such as tingling or numbness – this could be indicative of damaged nerves
  • A cold, pale or white foot – such symptoms may suggest damage to the arteries and a reduced supply of blood to the foot
  • You have suffered a broken foot injury because of a serious accident
  • You have a high temperature, or you feel shivery – this could suggest an infection

Seek urgent medical attention if you, or someone you are with, experiences any of the above symptoms.

Could I Qualify for Free Orthopaedic Assessment for a Broken Foot?

There may be further help available in your local area that could potentially accelerate your broken foot recovery. Free private physiotherapy aftercare could get you back on your feet safely and faster than if you rely on NHS treatment alone.

By contacting us today, we can advise you of any free private treatment for a broken foot that you may be entitled to receive in your area, it takes a few minutes for one of our health experts to let you know.

Are There any Complications Associated with a Broken Foot?

Fractured foot

Follow up for fractured foot

As with any broken bone injury, a broken foot does come with a risk of complications. The most common complications are:

  • Broken bones failing to properly heal – this can cause a non-union that may need surgery to rectify
  • The development of arthritis – this usually occurs when the line of a fracture enters the surface of a joint
  • Infection caused by open fractures – this can also lead to damage in the nerves, arteries and tendons
  • Compartment Syndrome from major swelling in the small spaces of the foot – this is usually as a result of a crush injury and can require emergency fractured foot surgery

How Should I Treat a Broken Foot at Home?

If you have suffered a broken foot injury, it is important to follow medical advice once home to prevent any further discomfort and aid the recovery process.

During your recovery process, which usually lasts between 3 and 8 weeks after the injury occurred, your doctor is likely to advise you to start moving your foot. When using your foot after a fracture, it is important that you build up activity slowly. If you experience any worsening in your pain symptoms or you notice your fractured foot swelling, stop what you are doing and contact your doctor for advice.

While you are recovering at home, there are effective exercises you can try to help build up strength and mobility in your fractured foot. These include:

  • Moving your toes as much as possible
  • For a few seconds at a time, pointing your toes up and down, then spreading your toes out and curling them upwards
  • Placing a light-weight cloth on the floor and using your toes to pull the cloth toward you as your heel remains grounded

Follow-up

As you recover from your broken foot, the doctor in charge of your care will arrange necessary appointments to check how your injury is healing. Your doctor would advise when you are able to:

  • Stop using your crutches
  • To have your broken foot boot cast removed
  • Resume your normal daily activities

What Free Private Treatment Could I Get For a Broken Foot?

You may be entitled to further free help as well as broken foot NHS treatment. This free private care could speed up your recovery and get you back on your feet safely sooner.

There are various private treatments available, depending on what area of the country you live in. By giving us a quick phone call today, we can tell you what free medical help you are entitled to help your recovery.

Call Us to Find Out More About Free Treatment and Physio for a Broken Foot

If you have suffered a broken foot, we may be able to help you today by advising you on what free medical care you are entitled to. This may include receiving a free assessment of your broken bone report, useful medical supplies. You may also be entitled to free private physiotherapy to help as you rehabilitate following a fractured foot injury. We can tell you today if you could receive free medical treatment. Get in touch with us now and we will help you straight away.

Call us today on 020 3870 4868, our phone lines are open 7 days a week from 9 am to 11 pm and one of our health experts is waiting to take your call.

Helpful Links

If you suffered a broken foot and would like to know more about this type of injury, the following link provides essential reading:

Fractures – Foot and Ankle – ouh.nhs.uk

To find out more about foot fractures, diagnosis and treatment, please following the link below:

Foot fractures and dislocations

The following link provides useful information on fractures and how to cope through the healing process:

More about bone and joint fractures