What to Expect If You Have a Broken Foot

A broken foot, or foot fracture, can affect any of the 26 different bones in each foot. Because these bones in your feet are small, they can be easily damaged from sports injuries, falls, and accidents, or subjected to repetitive forces and pressure from weight-bearing activities.

All foot fractures, even small ones, require a visit with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

This article will describe common causes, types, symptoms, and treatment of foot fractures.

man on crutches with walking boot

choja / Getty Images

Broken Foot Causes

A foot fracture is most often caused by direct injury or trauma to the foot, which can result from:

  • High impact activities involving running and jumping
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Blunt force trauma

Additionally, stress fractures in the bones of the feet can develop from repetitive stress and overuse with prolonged walking, running, and exercising without adequate rest or supportive footwear.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of a broken foot include:

  • High impact activities
  • Unsupportive footwear
  • Vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency
  • Altered foot and ankle alignment, including flat feet (pes planus) or very high arches (pes cavus)

Symptoms

A broken foot can cause changes in the physical appearance of your foot as well as problems with your movement. Broken foot symptoms include:

  • Pain that can either occur suddenly or develop gradually
  • Difficulty bearing weight on your foot
  • Swelling in the ankle, foot, or toes
  • Foot bruising and discoloration
  • Restricted range of motion and mobility of the joints of your toes, foot, and ankle
  • Altered gait pattern
  • Poor balance

When to See a Healthcare Provider

A broken foot requires immediate medical attention. If you were involved in a car accident, fall, or impact injury and developed foot pain and difficulty bearing weight on your foot immediately after, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Seek medical attention if you've been experiencing prolonged foot pain that has not improved over the course of a month. Your healthcare provider will assess if a stress fracture or other condition such as plantar fasciitis may have developed over time from repetitive strain on your foot.

Diagnosis

An X-ray is the most common diagnostic test used to diagnosis a foot fracture. The Ottawa Ankle and Foot Rules are used as a screening measure to determine if an X-ray is needed based on symptoms after injury. 

According to these rules, an X-ray of the foot is needed if a patient has pain in the midfoot region and either:

  • Bone tenderness over potential fracture sites like the base of the fifth metatarsal or navicular bone of the midfoot
  • Or displays an inability to bear weight for four steps on the affected foot immediately after injury and in the emergency room or doctor’s office

If the above symptoms are not present, X-rays are not needed, since a foot fracture is not likely.

Sometimes an MRI will be performed to assess for a stress fracture, which can be difficult to detect on a conventional X-ray. MRIs can depict bone edema, which can develop before a full stress fracture develops.

Foot fractures most often refer to fractures of either the metatarsals or tarsals, two groups of bones in the foot located between the toes and heel.

The most common foot fractures include:

  • First metatarsal fracture of the great toe
  • Metatarsal fractures of the other four toes
  • Fifth metatarsal tuberosity fracture
  • Jones fracture (proximal fifth metatarsal fracture)
  • Tarsal bone fractures, most often stress fractures of the navicular

Metatarsal fractures make up 35% of all foot fractures, most often occurring in the fifth metatarsal that connects to the pinky toe. About 80% of metatarsal fractures heal well with conservative treatment.

Other fractures that involves bones of the feet include:

  • Toe fractures
  • Calcaneal (heel bone) fractures

Toe fractures are the most common type of foot fracture.

Treatment

Treatment will vary depending on the type of fracture you have, but generally involves wearing some type of protective cast, boot, or supportive footwear to protect the foot as the fracture heals.

During your recovery, you will progress the amount of weight you can bear on your foot as tolerated. You may also be referred to physical therapy to improve your foot and ankle mobility, strength, and balance. Vitamin D supplementation may also be recommended to help improve the ability of your bones to heal.

Metatarsal fracture

Metatarsal fractures are typically treated with a splint or cast while avoiding weight bearing on the affected foot for at least four to six weeks. When your splint or cast is removed, you will then be provided with a walking boot for four to six weeks to limit pressure on your foot as it continues to heal.

Jones fracture

A Jones fracture typically requires a longer period of time in a cast while avoiding weight bearing for six to eight weeks. Surgery for a Jones fracture may be needed for athletes and active individuals to promote healing and return to sport and physical activity.

Navicular fracture

Navicular fractures are treated either with a protective splint or cast and avoidance of weight bearing for six to eight weeks. If the fracture is severe or does not heal, surgery may be required to insert a metal screw to fixate the bone into place, followed by non-weight bearing for the first six weeks after surgery.

Toe fracture

Toe fractures generally require the least treatment, starting with taping one toe to another to splint the broken toe while wearing rigid sole shoes for four to six week. If your great toe is broken, you may have to wear a walking boot for two to three weeks first before moving on to wearing rigid sole shoes for three to four more weeks.

Recovery

It typically takes six to eight weeks for bones to heal, but this timeline can be longer depending on the severity of your fracture. During this initial stage of recovery, you will not be allowed to place weight on your foot and will need to use a walker or crutches to allow your foot fracture to heal.

Following the initial non-weight bearing period, you will gradually progress the amount of weight you can put on your foot and may have to wear a specialized boot or shoe. It can take up to six months for some type of foot fractures to heal adequately enough to support weight bearing and activity demands for more active and athletic individuals.

During your recovery, elevating your foot and applying ice can help decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation. Pain medication either over-the-counter or prescribed by your healthcare provider may also be used to help manage your pain, especially in the beginning weeks after injury and/or surgery.

Prevention

While many foot fractures occur from injury, which can be unpredictable, there are certain measures that can be taken to help strengthen your feet. Preventative measures for avoiding foot fractures include:

  • Wearing supportive footwear like athletic sneakers with proper arch support
  • Replacing athletic shoes regularly (every six to 12 months) depending on your frequency of physical activity
  • Increasing the intensity and duration of exercise and physical activity gradually over time
  • Incorporating adequate rest in between exercise and training sessions
  • Supplementing with vitamin D
  • Seeking medical treatment early if you start to develop pain in your feet

Summary 

Foot fractures can include the toes, heel bone, tarsal, or metatarsal bones and most commonly occur from impact injuries like motor vehicle accidents, or falls, or gradually overtime from repetitive activity like running and jumping without adequate rest. Other factors like altered foot and ankle alignment, poor footwear, and vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency can also increase the risk of developing a foot fracture. 

Most foot fractures require a period of time of non-weight bearing where you will have to stay off your injured foot in order to give it adequate time to heal. During this time you will wear a specialized boot, shoe, or cast to protect your foot and use a walker or crutches to help you get around. After the initial weeks of recovery, you will be cleared by your healthcare provider to gradually increase weight bearing and build up your strength and mobility.

A Word From Verywell 

Staying off a broken foot is crucial for allowing it to heal properly. Standing and walking on a broken foot will place increased stress at the fracture site, which will delay and potentially even prevent the fracture from healing. During the initial weeks of recovery, it is important that you follow your healthcare provider’s guidelines by avoiding weight bearing activities and using specialized protective footwear to support your foot as it heals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you walk on a broken foot?

    For most foot fractures, you will need to avoid full weight bearing for at least six to eight weeks to allow the fracture to heal. During this time, your foot will be placed in a boot or cast and you will need to use crutches or a walker to get around.

  • Can a broken foot heal on its own?

    If it is not a severe fracture, a broken foot has the potential to heal on its own as long as appropriate precautions are taken, such as immobilization with a cast or boot and avoidance of weight bearing in the initial stages of recovery.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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