Breaking news: There are, collectively, more than 50 bones located in your two feet—fully one quarter of your body’s entire supply. They don’t have easy jobs, either—your feet are your foundation, after all. Some have to be tough enough to support the full impact force of your body during exercise, while others are responsible for keeping you mobile.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that foot fractures are a common issue. Some breaks will be obvious, but others might not be. A hairline crack or stress fracture may feel like a moderate level pain, while a broken ankle may masquerade as a bad sprain. However, you’ll want any broken bone treated as quickly as possible. Continuing to add weight and pressure to a break can rearrange the position of bone fragments and magnify the damage in a big hurry. Any tissue in the body that is white (bones, tendon, ligaments) have little blood flow and therefore take a long time to heal.
Types of Foot Fractures
Breaks come in many shapes and sizes, varying by location and severity.
- Stress fractures are tiny cracks in bones, usually due to constant overuse from high-impact activity. These are very much like the tiny crack in your windshield that grows with each impact. Although not as dramatic as a “full” break, they are serious injuries that require time to heal properly. Continuing to put stress on them can quickly undo any healing that’s already taken place, or even make the problem worse. If this type of fracture is caught early it may take 2-4 weeks to heal. If it becomes advanced you may have a 6-8 week healing time
- Closed full fractures are injuries where the bone has noticeably broken (often from a single traumatic injury, rather than overuse) and may be out of alignment, but not so much that it has broken the skin. It is critical that a fracture in the foot heals in its original position to reduce long-term problems. If the bones around a joint move more than 1mm, it will create arthritis down the road. You may have heard that broken toes do not need treatment and will heal on their own. If a fracture invades a joint or becomes misaligned there will be problems later on.
- Dislocations. This is when a joint separates instead of the bone breaking. This is apparent when the foot is pointing north and a toe is point east. Sometimes a broken bone has less complications and quicker healing time than when there is a lot of soft tissue damage.
- Open or compound fractures are, for obvious reasons, typically the most dangerous and traumatic type, as they occur when bone pierces surrounding soft tissues and skin. Immediate emergency care is necessary to slow blood loss, prevent infection, prevent nerve damage, and repair the injury.
The ankle is probably the most common location for a broken bone in the lower limbs, but just about any bone is susceptible, including your toes, forefoot (also known as metatarsal fractures), midfoot (also known as Lisfranc fractures), and even your heel.