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Home > Health Library > Toe, Foot, and Ankle Injuries
At one time or another, everyone has had a minor toe, foot, or ankle injury that caused pain or swelling. Most of the time our body movements do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or an injury.
Toe, foot, or ankle injuries most commonly occur during:
In children, most toe, foot, or ankle injuries occur during sports, play, or falls. The risk for injury is higher in sports with jumping, such as basketball, or sports with quick direction change, such as soccer or football. Any bone injury near a joint may injure the growth plate (physis) in a child and needs to be evaluated.
Certain athletes, such as dancers, gymnasts, or soccer or basketball players, have an increased risk of toe, foot, or ankle injuries.
Older adults are at higher risk for injuries and fractures because they lose muscle mass and bone strength as they age. They also have more problems with vision and balance, which increases their risk of injury.
Most minor injuries will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms and promote healing.
An acute injury may occur from a direct blow, a penetrating injury, or a fall, or from twisting, jerking, jamming, or bending a limb abnormally. Your pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after your injury. Acute injuries include:
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on your joint or other tissue, often by "overdoing" an activity or repeating the same activity over and over. Overuse injuries include:
Treatment for your toe, foot, or ankle injury may include first aid measures (such as the application of a brace, splint, or cast), a special shoe (orthotic device), physical therapy, medicine, and, in some cases, surgery. Treatment depends on:
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Major trauma is any event that can cause very serious injury, such as:
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and this change does not go away.
Symptoms of infection may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Most minor injuries will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms and promote healing. But if you suspect that you may have a more severe injury, use first aid measures while you arrange for an evaluation by your doctor.
If a cast or splint is applied, be sure to keep it dry, and try to move the uninjured part of your extremity as normally as possible to help maintain muscle strength and tone. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your cast or splint.
If you have a minor injury, try home treatment measures to relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Begin gentle range-of-motion exercises right after your injury while you have ice on your ankle. Perform a set of exercises by repeating them 10 to 30 times. Do each set 3 to 5 times a day.
Try the following simple range-of-motion exercises:
Towel curls. While sitting, place a hand towel on a smooth floor, such as wood or tile. While keeping your heel on the ground, curl your toes and grab the towel with your toes to scrunch the towel. Let go, and continue scrunching up the entire length of the towel. When you reach the end of the towel, reverse the action by grabbing the towel with your toes, scrunching it, and pushing it away from you. Repeat the exercise until you have pushed the entire length of the towel away from you.
About 48 to 72 hours after your injury, start exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles on the back of the lower leg to the bone at the base of the heel.
Towel stretch. If you can't stand, sit with your knee straight and a towel looped around the ball of your foot. Gently and slowly pull back on the towel for 15 to 30 seconds until you feel your calf stretch. Repeat 2 to 4 times. In moderate to severe ankle sprains, at first it may be too painful to pull your toes far enough to feel a stretch in your calf. Use caution, and let pain be your guide. A little pain is normal, but you should not feel moderate to severe pain. Do this exercise 2 or 3 times each day for about a week. Then, make Achilles stretches part of your daily routine to maintain flexibility.
Calf stretch. If you are able to stand, you can do this exercise by facing a wall with your hands at shoulder level on the wall. Place your injured foot behind the other with the toes pointing forward. Keep your heels down and your back leg straight. Slowly bend your front knee until you feel the calf stretch in the back leg. Repeat as above.
As soon as you can bear weight without increased pain or swelling, begin muscle-strengthening exercises. These exercises should be held for 3 to 5 seconds. Do 15 to 20 repetitions once or twice daily for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity of your injury.
Start by sitting with your foot flat on the floor and pushing it outward against an immovable object such as a wall or heavy furniture. After you feel comfortable with this, try using rubber tubing looped around the outside of your feet for resistance.
While still sitting, put your feet together flat on the floor. Press your injured foot inward against your other foot.
Next, place the heel of your other foot on top of the injured one. Push down with the top heel while trying to push up with your injured foot.
Balance and control exercises
When you are able to stand without pain, you can begin balance and control exercises. You can start by standing in a doorway and lightly holding on to the doorjamb. When you can do this for 60 seconds, try adding the advanced moves in the next level.
Stand on your injured foot only and hold your arms:
Do six repetitions, holding each for 60 seconds, once a day.
Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
The following tips may prevent toe, foot, or ankle injuries.
Injuries such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, or punctures may be a sign of abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury cannot be explained or does not match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the explanations for the cause of the injury change. You may be able to prevent further abuse by reporting it and seeking help.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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