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Dislocated Toe? Here’s What to Know

You finally got your child back to sleep after a nightmare and are sneaking out of their room when Bam! one of your toes slams into the wall. Ouch!

You hobble back to bed thinking everything will be okay only to wake up the next morning with your second toe looking swollen and a bit crooked. A quick Google search reveals that you’ve most likely dislocated your toe.

What is a dislocated toe?

“A toe dislocation is when the bones of the toe joint completely separate and the tissues or ligaments that hold the joint together are forced out of their usual positions,” said Joseph Dobrusin, DPM, a podiatrist at Banner Health Center. “A toe can go from normal, to subluxation (a partial dislocation) to being completely dislocated.”

Toes can commonly dislocate at the joint where the phalanges (or the bones of your toes) join: the distal interphalangeal joint (closest to the tip of your toe), the proximal interphalangeal joint (middle of your toe) or the metatarsophalangeal joint (where your toe meets the foot).

“Dislocated toes most often develop over time due to birth defects or progressive diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or hammer toe which can cause knuckles and joints to go from normal to contracted to dislocated,” Dr. Dobrusin said. However, dislocation can also occur from blunt trauma (such as stubbing your toe late at night!), repetitive moments that cause wear and tear or from certain sports and activities.

What are the signs of a toe dislocation?

Symptoms of a dislocated toe may include the following:

  • Bruising, pain and swelling
  • Toe looks out of place, bent or crooked
  • Difficulty moving and walking or putting weight on the toe
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Tingling, weakness or numbness in the toe

The tricky part of toe dislocation is that some of these symptoms can also mimic symptoms of a sprained, fractured or broken toe injury, so it’s best to get medical help right away.

“If you fail to address the injury appropriately, you could run the risk of further injury,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “While it’s a low percentage of cases, if the dislocation pinches any blood vessels, it could cause permanent damage to the tissues of your toe if not fixed as soon as possible.”

How is a dislocated toe diagnosed?

In most cases, the diagnosis is determined by a clinical examination and an x-ray.

“X-rays are typically done to identify where the dislocation is occurring and to look for other damage, such as a fracture,” Dr. Dobrusin said.

What is the treatment of a dislocated toe?

When it comes to treating a dislocation, you’ll want to seek medical care first. Don’t try to put your toe back into place on your own! Instead, focus on not moving your injured toe, apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain and keep your foot elevated until you can get in for an evaluation.

The goal of treatment for a dislocation is to realign the bones in a joint, which is known as a reduction. Reductions can be done closed (without surgery) or open (with surgery).

Closed reduction: In a closed reduction, your medical provider will use a local anesthetic to numb the area and will pull or turn your bone back into place.

Open reduction: Your medical provider may recommend surgery if your dislocation is severe or if the closed reduction wasn’t successful.

What does recovery of a dislocated toe look like?

After the toe bones are put back into place, recovery may include:

  • Taping the toe to a nearby healthy toe
  • Use of a cast, walking boot, crutches or a splint on your toe
  • Rest, icing and foot elevation
  • Physical therapy to restore strength, flexibility and range of motion
  • Slow return to normal activity

Whether your reduction is open or closed, be prepared for healing to take some time.

“For most people, it can take about 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the deformity, how much work was needed to fix the problem, etc.,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “It’s important to remember that once your toe dislocates, it may easily dislocate again so it’s important not to rush the healing process.”

Is there anything I can do to prevent a dislocated toe?

While some causes may be out of your control, you can help reduce your risk for injury by wearing proper shoes and protection during sports or other activities.

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