You may have a broken (also called fractured) foot after an accident or fall. This common injury requires prompt medical attention and can be serious. The severity of a broken foot can vary, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you think your foot is broken. They can develop a treatment plan to help you recover.
The most common symptoms of a broken foot include:
- problems walking or putting weight on the foot
- deformity, such as a broken bone sticking out of the skin or the foot facing the wrong way
Your symptoms can vary, but pain, bruising, and swelling tend to be common.
Broken foot vs. sprain
You may have difficulty determining if your foot is broken or sprained. This is normal because the symptoms of the two conditions overlap. In general, a broken foot tends to be more painful than a sprained foot, and the pain lasts longer. Bruising, swelling, and tenderness are also more severe if your foot is broken.
Another way to tell the difference between a broken foot and sprained foot is the sound the body makes when the injury occurs. If you have a sprain, you’re more likely to hear a popping sound. If you have a fracture, then you’re more likely to hear a cracking sound. Keep in mind that not all sprains or fractures make sounds when they happen.
You may need to see a doctor and get an X-ray to determine if your foot is broken or sprained. An X-ray will show the fracture and help your doctor determine the treatment plan.
When to see a doctor
It’s important to see a doctor if you think your foot is broken. Don’t wait for the symptoms to get worse. Serious complications are possible if you don’t treat the injury. You may develop an infection or have long-lasting or permanent changes to the shape of your foot.
Make sure to see a doctor in the following cases:
- You think your foot is broken.
- Your symptoms get worse.
- The pain and swelling increase in the foot.
- You develop numbness and circulation problems in the foot.
- Your foot turns blue and becomes cold.
- You can see a bone sticking out of the skin.
- Your foot is deformed and in an unnatural position, such as turned the wrong way.
- You can’t walk, stand, or put weight on the foot.
- You notice redness or red streaks around the injury, which can be a sign of infection.
Even if your symptoms aren’t severe, it’s still important to see a doctor. Some people may not have serious pain and swelling after a fracture, but they may still require treatment. Your doctor can also determine if you have a sprain or other minor injury instead of a fracture.
Your doctor will take your medical history and do a physical exam. They may ask you to walk on the foot or move the foot to see the range of motion.
Then, your doctor may order several types of imaging tests to check for a fracture. These tests may include:
X-rays are the most common tool used to help diagnose a foot fracture. Bone scans and other imaging tests may be necessary for stress fractures, which are too small to see with X-ray alone.
The type of treatment you receive is based on the severity and location of the fracture. You may need rest and medications for pain relief. It’s also common to have a cast, brace, or boot for the broken foot. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Learn how to apply immediate first aid for a broken bone.
Common treatments for a broken foot include:
- over-the-counter medications for pain relief
- wearing a cast, splint, brace, boot, or special shoe
- taking weight off of the broken foot
- using crutches or a wheelchair
- manipulation of the bones to put them back in place
- surgery to insert pins, screws, rods, or plates
Your recovery time depends on the location and severity of the fracture. Most foot fractures take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. Healing time varies, so ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities.
Most people make a full recovery and can walk again after breaking a foot. However, complications are possible. For example, it’s common to have swelling and pain during recovery. You may have difficulty finding comfortable shoes. Your doctor will schedule follow-up X-rays to check on the healing process.
If you think your foot may be broken, seek immediate medical help. Don’t wait for symptoms to get worse before seeing a doctor. Your doctor can help determine if you have a fracture or another type of injury.