Foot fractures are a common injury that can occur in patients of any age, from children to the elderly. Like all bone fractures, a foot fracture needs immediate, professional medical care to preserve the healthy function and movement of the foot. By knowing the symptoms of a broken foot, patients will be better equipped to know when to see professional foot fracture treatment.

1 in 10 broken bones are foot fractures

Looking at the anatomy of the foot, it’s easy to see why foot fractures are so common. In fact, one in ten broken bones occurs in the foot. The human foot consists of 26 bones, many of which are tiny and delicate, making them more prone to fractures. Combined with all the wear and tear that the human foot undergoes on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that foot fractures are such a common occurrence.

The anatomy of the human foot

The human foot is made of 26 bones. Any of these bones may experience a fracture.

  • The hind foot is comprised of two bones: the talus, which connects the foot to the leg; and the calcaneus, also known as the heel bone.
  • The mid foot is comprised of five smaller bones – the navicular, the cuboid, and three cuneiforms.
  • The forefoot is comprised of 19 bones – five long metatarsals and 14 phalanges, which are the bones of the toes.
  • Some people also have extra pebble-like bones in their feet called sesamoid bones. Sesamoid bones do not have any purpose and are commonly referred to as accessory bones.

Symptoms of a foot fracture

Like any bone fracture, the first step toward diagnosing a foot fracture is knowing what symptoms to look for in the time directly after the original injury. Though not all of these symptoms will occur in every case, experiencing at least one of more of these symptoms points to the possibility of a foot fracture.

Symptoms of a foot fracture include:

  • Tenderness at the spot of the break
  • Pain that increases with activity
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Throbbing pain immediately after the injury
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty standing
  • Difficulty bearing weight
  • Deformity of the foot

Common Foot Fractures

5th Metatarsal Base Fractures – Fractures of the 5th metatarsal account for nearly 25 percent of all metatarsal fractures. Most 5th metatarsal fractures happen at the base of the bone, which is located near the middle of the foot. Common variations of 5th metatarsal fractures include the Dancer’s fracture and the Jones’ fracture.

In a Dancer’s Fracture, the ankle is rolled inward, causing the break. Jones’ fractures are most often caused by putting repeated stress on the foot, such as in patients who play sports.

LisFranc Fractures – LisFranc fractures are fractures of the midfoot. The midfoot is the location of the arch of the foot, and it consists of a cluster of small bones and ligaments. These small bones connect to the five metatarsals of the foot. LisFranc fractures may happen in conjunction with LisFranc injuries such as torn or damaged ligaments in the midfoot.

Calcaneus Fracture – The calcaneus, also known as the heel bone, may incur a fracture after a car accident or fall from a high place. Calcaneus fractures are highly painful and often require surgery to reconstruct the normal anatomy of the heel. Even with treatment, some severe calcaneus fractures can cause long-term pain and mobility issues.

Causes of foot fracture

Any time part of the foot is bent, twisted, crushed or stretched beyond its natural capacity, a foot fracture is likely to occur. Common causes of foot fractures include:

  • Broken toes often occur after a hard kick, either on purpose as in playing a sport or accidentally such as while hiking and kicking a large rock. Accidentally ramming a toe into a large piece of furniture is a common cause of a broken toe.
  • Broken heels are most likely caused by falling from a height and landing on the feet.
  • Broken ankles often occur along with sprains, when the ankle is twisted or turned an unnatural angle or degree.
  • Stress fractures can build up over time from repeated stress on the bones of the foot. Stress fractures are common in runners, dancers, soldiers, gymnasts and athletes. Stress fractures are particularly common when the level of intensity of movement increases greatly over a short amount of time, such as when a soldier first enlists and begins heavy physical training.

Foot fractures are more common in children than adults

In an adult foot, the bones are fully formed and are therefore stronger than the tendons and ligaments that surround them. In children, the opposite is often the case. Children’s still-developing bones are often weaker than the surrounding ligaments and tendons, so if an injury occurs, it is more likely to damage the bone than a ligament or tendon. An injury that would cause only a sprain in an adult is likely to cause a foot fracture in a child.

How are foot fractures diagnosed?

A foot fracture is most often diagnosed via x-rays, though many times, a physical examination is all that’s needed to diagnose a foot fracture.

During the physical examination, the physician may press on different parts of the patient’s foot to assess the patient’s pain level. The patient may also be asked to take a few steps so that the physician can appraise movement and pain level while the foot is bearing weight.

On rare occasions, imaging such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound may be required to accurately diagnose a broken bone in the foot.

Treatment for foot fractures

Seeking treatment for a foot fracture should be done right away to help the bone heal correctly, reduce pain, and prevent future problems such as long-term pain and mobility issues due to an incorrectly healed break.

Treatment for foot fractures depends greatly on the location of the break and how the bone is broken. Common treatment for foot fractures includes splints, boots, crutches, casts, and sometimes surgery.

The R.I.C.E. method is also used to treat foot fractures, either alone or in conjunction with the treatments listed above.

  • Rest – Keeping weight off the affected foot will help it to heal faster.
  • Ice – Icing helps to control inflammation around the break.
  • Compression – Keeping the injury wrapped helps to control swelling.
  • Elevation – Elevating the broken foot also helps control inflammation and reduces pain.

Surgery for foot fractures

For more complex breaks that could not be properly treated with only a cast, split or boot, foot fracture surgery may be required to set the bones and promote proper healing and long-term health.

Foot fracture surgery involves realigning the broken bones and securing them into place with pins, screws, wires or plates. Once the bones are moved into the proper position for healing, screws, pins or wires are used to keep the broken ends of the bones held together securely while the bone heals. After surgery, the foot is typically placed into a cast, splint or postoperative boot to stabilize the area while the bones are healing. Occasionally, a bone graft may be used to help new bone tissue grow into place to heal the break.

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