What Happens When you Stub/Jam Your Toe?

"Jamming" or "Stubbing" a toe is a very common injury and although it is often nothing to worry about, there are several things to keep in mind in the days that follow an injury.

Jamming your toe, by hitting it against a hard object, kicks the body’s immune system into high gear. Blood is rushed to the site of the injury and the toe becomes enflamed. This inflammation can temporarily make the toe difficult to move. This effect is referred to as “function laesa”, which just means loss of function. If your toe continues to swell, try taking a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like Ibuprofen to both help with the pain and take down inflammation. Also, remember to RICE: rest, ice, compress and elevate.

Common Injuries after Stubbing Your Toe:

Ingrown Toenail: Ingrown toenails are easily diagnosed by curving of the edge of the nail into the skin and causing inflammation, redness and significant pain. Ingrowns are caused by a variety of things- including incorrect nail trimming, tight shoes or just an inherited tendency for the nails to curve.  However, if the toenail was broken during the impact of hitting your toe, it becomes much more likely that you develop an ingrown toenail. If you start to experience these symptoms, it often helps to soak your foot in warm water and Epsom salt. If your pain continues to increase it is a good idea to have these ingrowns removed by a doctor.

Bruising to the toenail:  A hematoma, or bruising to the nail, can cause pressure and pain.  If the pressure is bothering you, we recommend you come in to have it drained by puncturing the nail.  As the blood and fluids drain out, the pressure will be alleviated and the pain will often resolve in a day (full healing may take up to two weeks).   If the pain is minimal, however, treatment is not necessary. The toenail will be stained, and it may take several months for the bruise to grow out (Nails just grow that slowly!) For most individuals, the nail becomes pain free in a short period of time and becomes less problematic. 

Puffy base of toenail:  This is caused when the base of the toenail is damaged after it was jammed into the nail bed.  Usually no treatment (except protection from further injury) is necessary.  Sometimes the nail will fall off over the next couple of weeks.  However, if the pain and swelling are severe, come in to get your toe drained to alleviate the pressure and allow healing with minimal pain.  Patience is the key to this injury. If your toenail falls off, try wearing Crocs, diabetic shoes, or shoes with a protective toe box to prevent further painful injury.

Fractured toe:  Sometimes when you hit your toe really hard, it’s not just jammed, it’s broken.  If you think you may have a broken toe, the best option is to have a doctor look at it and test for fractures.  


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Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute