Toe Dislocation

A toe dislocation occurs when the tissues, or ligaments, that hold the joint together are torn. The bones then move apart, or are dislocated, out of their normal position. This causes pain, swelling, and bruising. Sometimes there is also a small chip fracture. Once the joint is put back into place again, it will take about 6 weeks for the ligaments to heal. During this time, protect your toe from re-injury. Sometimes this is done by taping the injured toe to the one next to it. This is called buddy taping.

If your toenail has been severely injured, it may fall off in 1 to 2 weeks. A new one will usually start to grow back within 1 month.

Home care

  • Keep your leg raised, or elevated, to reduce pain and swelling. When sleeping, place a pillow under the injured leg. When sitting, support your injured leg so it's above heart level. This is very important during the first 48 hours.

  • Apply an ice pack over the injured area for no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Do this every 3 to 6 hours for the first 24 to 48 hours. After that, use ice packs as needed to ease pain and swelling. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a sealed plastic bag. Then wrap the bag in a thin, clean towel or cloth. As the ice melts, be careful not to get the tape, gauze, or splint wet.

  • If you have a removable splint, you may take it off to bathe, then put it back on. If you have a permanent splint, cover your entire foot with 2 plastic bags. Place 1 bag around the other. Tape each bag at the top end or use rubber bands. Water can still leak in even when your foot is covered. So it's best to keep the splint away from water. If a splint gets wet, you can dry it with a hairdryer on a cool setting. 

  • If buddy tape was applied and it becomes wet or dirty, change it. You may replace it with paper, plastic, or cloth tape. Cloth tape and paper tapes must be kept dry. When re-applying buddy tape, use gauze or cotton padding between your toes. This will prevent the skin from getting moist and breaking down. It's very important to put padding at the web space. This is the small piece of skin that joins the bases of your toes. Keep the buddy tape in place as instructed by your healthcare provider.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen may work better than acetaminophen

    Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease, ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or take a blood thinner.

  • If you were given crutches, don’t bear weight on your injured foot until you can do so without pain.

  • If you were given a stiff sandal, called a cast shoe, or a special boot, use this until you can walk barefoot without pain.

  • You may return to sports or physical activities as advised by your provider. How long this takes will depend on your injury. You may be able to go back to your activities right away. Or you may need to wait up to 8 weeks.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

 If X-rays were taken, you will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of these occur:

  • The pain or swelling increases

  • Your toes becomes cold, blue, numb, or tingly

  • Your injured toe has redness, warmth, or fluid drainage

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