Five Myth-Busting Facts About Foot and Ankle Fractures

With the rise of the internet, it would seem that everyone and their mother has magically deemed themselves medical professionals. While this concept may seem amusing on the surface, the reality of it is that it promotes the dangerous spreading of false information on how to treat serious medical conditions. This is especially true of foot and ankle trauma, where old wives’ tales about fractures have resurfaced under the guise of medical fact.

We’re here to dispel some of that information in the hopes that people will seek the medical attention they need for their injuries before permanent damage takes hold.

Below are five myth-busting facts about fractures of the foot and ankle …

Myth: There is no real treatment for a broken toe other than taping it to a neighboring toe.

Fact: Though taping is a potential treatment for a toe fracture—known as immobilization or buddy taping—it is not effective for a severe or complicated fracture. For example, if the broken fragments of bone don’t fit neatly together, the physician may need to manipulate them back into their proper positon in a process called reduction.

Other treatments may include:

  • Wearing a stiff-bottomed shoe with a soft top to prevent the toe from flexing while accommodating swelling
  • Wearing a cast if the bone fragments don’t set nicely together (but don’t necessarily require reduction)
  • Surgical implantation of plates, screws or pins to set the bones properly during healing
Myth: If the toe can move, it isn’t broken.

Fact: As specialists, we have never really understood the mentality behind this. That’s like saying, “If the car can drive after an accident, then it isn’t damaged.” The toe being broken would not necessarily prohibit movement, depending on the fracture. (e.g., small chip fractures).

Mobility should not be used as a determining factor. Those with an injury to the toe should visit a physician if any of the following are experienced:

  • Abnormal or crooked appearance of the toe
  • Bone protruding from the toe
  • Bruising or discoloration of the nail
  • Bruising or swelling that is present the next day
  • Hearing a sound at the time of injury, such as a pop or crack
  • Precise, sharp pain at the point of impact
Myth: If there is a foot or ankle injury, soak it in hot water immediately.

Fact: Applying heat or hot water to a fracture (as well as a sprain or dislocation) promotes blood flow, which in turn increases the swelling of the area and results in more pain. Instead, apply ice to numb the pain and lower swelling. Then, contact a physician for an examination and recommended treatment.

Myth: Applying an elastic bandage to a severely sprained ankle is adequate treatment.

Fact: A sprain is a severe tear in one or more ligaments (fibrous tissue that helps hold joints together) and requires immediate medical attention. Additionally, only a medical professional can determine—through diagnostic testing and physical assessment—if there is no other injury other than damaged ligaments.

Myth: The terms fracture, break and crack are all different.

Fact: These are all words to describe a broken bone.

In short, a visit to a specialist should be in order when an injury to the foot or ankle has occurred. Only a professional can give sound medical advice and help determine what the injury is and how to treat it, not the internet; that’s only for cats.