A person can break their pinky toe in a trauma, such as stubbing the toe or dropping something on it. They may hear a sound as the toe breaks and feel pain. The toe may be crooked, swollen, and bruised.
The pinky toe is a commonly broken toe, and the fracture usually occurs at its base.
This article looks at the symptoms of a broken small toe, along with some other problems that can cause pain and swelling in the area. It also examines the treatment and management options for this injury.
The most common symptoms of a broken pinky toe include:
- a snapping, grinding, or popping noise at the time of the break
- pain at the place of impact at the time the fracture occurs
- the toe appearing to be crooked
- bruising and swelling
If there is an open wound, a person should seek immediate medical attention to prevent infection.
Other than a broken pinky toe, there are many reasons a person might have pain or swelling in their smallest toe.
People can treat most of these causes at home. However, if home remedies do not seem to be working, it is important to see a doctor, as the issue could turn out to be something more serious.
The following sections outline some other causes of pain and swelling in the pinky toe in more detail.
A stress fracture, or a hairline fracture, is a small crack or severe bruising within a bone.
It is slightly different from a traumatic fracture, as it usually occurs due to overuse and repetitive activity.
- pain during or after performing normal activities
- pain that goes away when resting but returns when standing or during activity
- painful to the touch
- swelling but no bruising
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the most important treatment for a stress fracture is rest.
Advising that it takes up to 8 weeks for most fractures to heal, the AAOS warn against resuming the activity that caused the stress fracture to occur too quickly. They warn that this could lead to long-term problems.
As well as resting, using shoe inserts or braces can help stress fractures heal.
Learn more about stress fractures here.
A sprain occurs when there is damage to a ligament. Ligaments are the bands of tough, elastic connective tissue that connect the bones in the toes to each other.
- difficulty walking
- tender to the touch
The AAOS categorize sprains into three grades:
- Grade I: This is characterized by overstretched ligaments, a minimal loss of function, and mild pain.
- Grade II: This is characterized by a partially torn ligament, moderate pain, and difficulty putting weight on the toe.
- Grade III: This is characterized by a complete tear of the ligament, severe pain, a total loss of function, and an inability to bear weight.
Treatment depends on the severity of the sprain but could include:
- resting the toe
- icing the toe
- wearing a compression sock
- using crutches to aid walking
- taking pain relief medication
- using a walking boot, which is a stiff boot that protects the toe as it heals
Learn about the difference between a sprain and a strain here.
A dislocation is a complete separation of the bones in a joint. The bones then move out of their normal position.
- severe pain
- deformity or displacement of the toe
- swelling and bruising
- numbness or tingling
- difficulty moving the toe
- “buddy” taping it to an adjacent toe
- using a splint
- wearing a cast
- trying a walking boot
A bunion is a painful, bony bump on the toe joint.
A bunion on the pinky toe is called a tailor’s bunion. Historically, this name comes from the tailors who sat cross-legged all day, with the outside edge of their feet rubbing on hard surfaces.
- a visible bump on the outside of the pinky toe
- pain and tenderness at the site of the bump
- redness and inflammation
- a callus or corn on the bump
- making shoe modifications, such as wearing wider-fitting footwear
- using bunionette pads
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
In some cases, corticosteroid injections can help treat the inflamed tissue around the joint. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases.
Learn more about tailor’s bunions here.
Corns are hard, thickened areas of skin that form as a result of friction or pressure. Corns are the foot’s natural defense to help protect the skin underneath them. They are a response to bone pressure against the skin.
Corns may develop on the tops and sides of the toes and on the balls of the feet.
- a hardened patch of skin
- open sores between the toes
- pain when wearing shoes
- shaving the corn, but only when a health professional carries it out
- soaking the feet and using a pumice stone on the corn
- wearing a donut shaped foam pad over the corn to reduce the pressure
It is best to visit a doctor as soon as someone suspects that there is something wrong. This is particularly important if a person hears a snapping, grinding, or popping noise at the time of the break.
If a person leaves a broken toe untreated, it can get worse and cause lasting problems.
The doctor will examine the foot, gently pressing on different areas to find out where there is pain.
They will also order X-rays. Additional imaging studies may be necessary if the initial X-ray does not show anything.
It is a myth that nothing can mend broken toes. In fact, leaving them without treatment can lead to future complications.
Healing of a broken toe may take 6–8 weeks.
A person may need to have their broken toe buddy taped to an adjacent one. Wearing a stiff-soled shoe can also help, as can using crutches to help keep weight off of the toe while it heals.
Rarely, a person may need to wear a cast to keep the foot immobile.
Surgery may be necessary if there are multiple breaks or if nonsurgical treatment does not work.
Also, if a fracture leads to large amounts of blood underneath the nail, a person may need to take antibiotics and undergo nail removal.
Taking NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help decrease swelling and pain.
At home, people can use the RICE method to try to reduce swelling and allow the pinky toe to heal.
- Rest: Give the toe time to heal.
- Ice: Ice the toe for up to 20 minutes four times per day.
- Compression: Using an elastic bandage or brace can provide support and reduce swelling.
- Elevate: Elevating the foot above the heart can also help reduce swelling.
The pinky toe works with the rest of the toes to keep a person balanced. A person’s foot works in a tripod fashion to keep them balanced, with the little toe being one part, the big toe another, and the heel the third.
Sustaining damage to any part of this tripod can affect a person’s range of motion.
It might be small, but the pinky toe plays a vital role in keeping a person balanced. Therefore, any damage to it can cause issues.
It is important to seek medical attention if a person suspects a broken toe, as it can get worse without treatment.
A person can treat milder problems at home, by changing their footwear, taking NSAIDs, and resting. A medical team can treat more serious issues.