Foot fractures

Back to Patient education: foot & ankle

What is a foot fracture?

A foot fracture is a broken bone in the foot. The foot has 26 bones – more than any other part of the body. The bones support your weight and allow you to walk and run. Foot fractures are very common. They range from tiny cracks in one or more of the bones (known as stress fractures) to breaks that pierce your skin (known as compound fractures). 

How does a foot fracture occur?

The most common causes of foot fracture include:

  • Trauma from a fall, car accident, or sports injury
  • Dropping something heavy on your foot
  • Missteps or putting your foot down in the wrong position
  • Osteoporosis, cancer and other diseases that weaken bones
  • Repetitive motion and overuse

What are the symptoms of a foot fracture?

Signs of a possible foot fracture include:

In compound fractures, the bone will protrude from the skin.

How is a foot fracture diagnosed?

In addition to a physical exam and patient history, your doctor can use specific tests, including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans to diagnose the severity and exact location of a foot fracture.

What is the treatment?

It’s important to treat foot fractures as soon as possible for proper healing. Treatment depends on the site and severity of the injury.

In some patients, conservative measures such as rest, ice, and immobilization in a brace or cast may be enough. If the pain is severe, prescription medication may be necessary. In most cases, it’s important to move the affected area to minimize stiffness. Once the cast or brace is removed, physical therapy is necessary to restore strength, motion and flexibility.

Some fractures require surgery to realign and stabilize the broken bone. Fixation devices such as wires, plates, nails or screws may be implanted to maintain proper alignment of the bones during healing. If the fracture is especially severe, a bone graft may be used to help speed the healing process.

Recovery time varies by patient and demand. It’s important to slowly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of activities to prevent re-injury.