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ER or Not: Really Bad Stubbed Toe

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ER or Not: Really Bad Stubbed Toe

Aug 24, 2018

Stubbing a toe is painful. You might have stubbed your toe really hard, and might have even broken it. Should you go to the ER? Dr. Troy Madsen stops by to discuss whether you should go to the ER. He also discusses how to treat and care for a stubbed toe.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Oh, you stubbed your toe and you're having a hard time walking around and it hurts really bad. Should you go to the ER or not? We're going to find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Is it bad enough to go to the emergency room, or isn't it? You're listening to "ER or Not" on The Scope.

Interviewer: So there are probably about a million different ways you can do this, but a stubbed toe. I mean, I'm talking about a stubbed toe that hurts really badly, maybe you can't even walk on it. Is that a reason to go to the ER or not? Dr. Troy Madsen is an emergency room physician at University of Utah Health. Stubbed toe: ER or not?

Is It Twisted or Deformed?

Dr. Madsen: Okay. I'm just going to put this out there, and I'm speaking as someone who went through this exact experience last summer, and I'm going to say: don't go to the ER. And why not? Well, you may have broken something but the reality is if your toe looks fine, it's not deformed looking, it's not twisted weird, we're not going to do anything for it if it's broken. What we're going to do for it, essentially, is tape it to the other toe and give it a month or two to heal.

This is exactly what I did. I was walking around the house last summer without shoes on, I jammed my toe on a corner in the house. It hurt like crazy, I said a few choice words. Yeah, I actually heard a crack as I did it and I said, "I know it's broken." It was black and blue; it hurt like crazy. But as I looked at it, it lined up fine with all the other toes, I had normal sensation in it. You know, blood was flowing to it fine, I hadn't done any major damage to it.

Interviewer: Like wasn't swollen terribly? I mean, is that something you'd look at?

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, you'd look at it, but it was swollen. But I knew I broke it, there was no question in my mind. But I said, "What's the point of going to an urgent care or to an ER, getting an X-ray, and having them say, 'Yes, it's broken. Here's some tape, tape it to the other toe, and give it two months.'"

Interviewer: Yeah, when you can just go to your closet and get out some tape.

Broken Toe Treatment

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, and that's exactly what I did. I said, "It's broken," I taped it, I gave it two months. It hurt for two months, and now it's fine. So this is one of those things . . . of course, I'm speaking as someone who . . . I might tell you, "Oh maybe go to the ER because you may want a doctor to look at it." But the reality is if I look at it and it's broken, I'm going to tell you, "Tape it to the other toe, give it a month or two, and it should heal up fine."

Interviewer: And if you're super concerned, maybe just make an appointment with your regular physician to go in and have them take a look at it.

Dr. Madsen: That's exactly right. It's not an emergeny thing where you have to get it checked out right at that moment because, again, if it's not something that needs to be twisted back into place where it's twisted really weird . . . or you know, if you have other issues, let's say, like diabetes, that becomes more concerning because you have less sensation, often, in your feet, people with advanced diabetes, so they can then develop sores and chronic issues there. So that's another situation entirely.

But for the average person you stub your toe, it hurts, tape it to the other toe. That'll support it, give it time, wear some hard-soled shoes, something that's going to give your foot some support where your toe's not moving around a lot and you'll be fine with that.

Interviewer: All right. When are you guys going to find out a better way to fix my toe than tape?

Dr. Madsen: Hey, tape's great. Duct tape fixes everything.

Interviewer: All right.

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updated: August 24, 2018
originally published: June 1, 2016