If you're an adult, there's a very good chance that you've fractured or broken a bone in your foot at some point. After all, there are 26 bones in each foot, and they have to take the impact of everything from walking to skydiving. That means there's a high percentage that at least one of them is going to fracture under the stress, which can range from a small crack in the bone known as a stress fracture, to a complete break which penetrates through the skin.
The adult foot is divided into three sections: the forefoot, made up of the toes (phalanges) and the longer bones which connect to them (metatarsals); the midfoot, which contains a collection of bones that form your arches (navicular bone, cuboid bone, and cuneiform bones); and the hindfoot, which contains 2 bones that form part of your ankle and all of your heel (talas bone and calcaneus). Additionally, in most people there are very small bones called sesamoids at the base of the big toe. That's a lot of moving parts, and a fracture can occur in any of them.
Symptoms of a foot fracture
- Tenderness, bruising, or swelling
- Breaks in the skin of the injured area
- Pain when you try to stand or walk
- Inability or decreased ability to move your foot
- "Cracking" sounds when you move your foot
- Foot is misshapen
It's essential to have a foot fracture treated as soon as possible by a podiatrist, so that the bone and tissue injury heals correctly. Without treatment, you run the risk of developing arthritis in the fractured area, blood clots, deformity, persistent pain, infection, weakness, reduced movement, loss of feeling in your foot or damage to blood vessels, tissues and nerves.
Types of fractures in the foot
- Stress Fracture: A bone is subjected to repeated stress, usually the result of athletic activities, walking or marching. When the bone can no longer absorb the stress, it cracks. This is known as a "stress injury".
- Hairline fracture: A minor crack in the bone which is difficult to see on x-rays.
- Open Fracture: The skin and soft tissue covering the bone are torn, and the bone may be seen coming out of the skin. This kind of fracture can easily lead to infection.
- Closed Fracture: The skin is not torn.
- Comminuted: Bone is broken in multiple spots, usually due to trauma or osteoporosis.
- Avulsion Fracture: Small fragments of bone detach from where tendons or ligaments attach to the bones.
- Joint fracture (intraarticular): Affects the surface of one of the joints. May lead to a loss of motion and osteoarthritis.
- Simple Transverse: A clean break across the bone.
- Displaced: The bone breaks in two pieces and must be realigned.
- Nondisplaced: Even though the bone is completely cracked, normal shape and alignment are intact.
- Angulated: The broken ends of the bones are at an angle.
There are a number of options your podiatrist may choose to treat your foot fracture. The treatment depends on what kind of fracture you have, where it's located in the foot, and how much discomfort it's causing you. Your podiatrist may choose one or more of the following treatments:
- Air boot (walking boot), cast, or splint. Immobilizing your foot is key to healing the bone correctly, reducing your pain, and preventing additional fractures or other damage.
- Prescription or over the counter medicine to reduce pain
- Antibiotics if the fracture might lead to an infection.
- Surgery if the fracture is severe. Your podiatric surgeon may need to remove damaged and infected tissue to prevent infection and speed healing. They may also realign the bones and fix them in place with screws, wires, pins, metal plates, or external fixation devices.
After initial treatment, your podiatrist will order you to rest and elevate the foot whenever possible, and ice the foot if it's swollen or painful. When the bone has healed, they may order physical therapy to help improve range of motion and strength in the bone and help to decrease any residual pain.