What are foot & ankle fractures?

A foot fracture is a bone break that happens in the bones of your foot, heel, toes, or ankle. There are different types of foot fractures, but the most common is a hairline fracture. These are also called stress fractures and are caused by repeated stress on the bones during exercise. Foot and ankle fractures can take a few weeks or several months to heal, depending on the type and severity of the injury.

  • Ankle fractures. It can be hard to tell the difference between a sprained ankle and a broken ankle. This is partly because ligaments are often damaged when a bone breaks, so you can have a sprain and a break at the same time. If you have an ankle injury that causes a lot of pain and you can’t walk on it, it may be broken.
  • Stress fractures in the foot. A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone because of repeated stress on the bone. Stress fractures cause pain when you put pressure on that fractured part of the foot. It feels better with rest. Stress fractures can be caused by overusing the foot in activities like running or from starting a new activity you’re not used to. This is especially true if your bones are weaker because of osteoporosis. Stress fractures can also happen in the bones at the ball of your foot from wearing high heels.
  • Broken toes. Your toe bones can break from bending the wrong way, especially the smallest toe (pinky toe). They can also break from a direct hit which could happen if you kicked something hard or something fell on your foot. A broken toe might look crooked or bent, but it might just look red and swollen.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of a foot fracture include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness and/or heat Intense pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Difficulty moving your foot or toes
  • Inability to put weight on the foot
  • A bone that is out of place and/or or broken skin with bone showing

When to See a Doctor

  • If you have a lot of pain, or if home care doesn’t help your fracture, go to the doctor. The doctor may give you a brace or cast to help your foot heal. In some cases, the doctor may recommend surgery to fix the bones.
  • Go to the doctor if your toe looks crooked or deformed.

Treatments & Prevention

Treatments

Treatment for a foot or ankle fracture depends on the kind of break and how serious it is.

  • Reduction. The doctor lines up both sides of the break and fixes them in that position with a cast, splint, or boot so the bone will heal correctly. 
  • Surgery. Surgery may be necessary to align the pieces of bone and fix any other structures in the foot that may be damaged. Metal plates and screws may be used to hold the broken pieces in place. 
  • Rest. You will likely need to stay off of the injured foot for a bit while it heals. Your doctor might use a cast or splint to keep the foot from moving, and you may need to use crutches or a knee scooter to help you get around. 
  • Medicine. Anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can help decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation in the foot. 
  • Most broken toes will heal if you tape the broken toe to the one next to it. This keeps the broken toe from moving too much and gives it a chance to heal.
  • Ice and elevate your foot after the fracture happens and when you have pain. You can also take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen.
  • Avoid putting weight on the foot for a period of time, which depends on how serious the fracture is. If it still hurts to put pressure on your foot, you are not ready to go back to your usual activities.
  • When you get back to your activities, make sure you are wearing the right shoes for the activity. Ease into your activities and don’t try to do too much too soon.

Healing time for a fracture might take several weeks or months depending on which bone was broken and what kind of fracture you have. 

Support & Resources

Learn More

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons