A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that hold a joint together. There are no broken bones. Sprains generally take from 3–6 weeks to heal. A toe sprain may be treated by taping the injured toe to the next toe. This is called buddy taping. This protects the injured toe and holds it in position. Mild sprains may not need any additional support. If the toenail has been hurt badly, it may fall off in 1–2 weeks. A new one will usually start to grow back within a month.
- Keep your leg elevated above heart level when sitting or lying down. This is very important during the first 48 hours to reduce swelling. Stay off the injured foot as much as possible until you can walk on it without pain. If needed, you may use crutches during the first week for this purpose. Crutches can be rented at many pharmacies or surgical/orthopedic supply stores.
- You may be given a cast shoe to wear to prevent movement in your toe. If not, you can use a sandal or any shoe that does not put pressure on the injured toe until the swelling and pain go away. If using a sandal, be careful not to hit your foot against anything, since another injury could make the sprain worse.
- Apply an ice pack over the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 6 hours. You should do this for the first 24 to 48 hours. You can make an ice pack by filling a plastic bag that seals at the top with ice cubes and then wrapping it with a thin towel. Continue to use ice packs for relief of pain and swelling as needed. As the ice melts, be careful to avoid getting your wrap, splint, or cast wet. As the ice melts, be careful to avoid getting any wrap, splint, tape, or cast wet. After 48 hours, apply heat from a warm shower or bath for 20 minutes several times daily. Alternating ice and heat may also be helpful.
- If buddy tape was applied and it becomes wet or dirty, change it. You may replace it with paper, plastic or cloth tape. Cloth tape and paper tapes must be kept dry. Apply gauze or cotton padding between the toes, especially near webbed area. This will help prevent the skin from getting moist and breaking down. Keep the buddy tape in place for at least 4 weeks, or as advised by your healthcare provider.
- You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.
- You may return to sports after healing, when you can run without pain.
Follow up with your with your healthcare provider as advised. Sometimes fractures don’t show up on the first X-ray. Bruises and sprains can sometimes hurt as much as a fracture. These injuries can take time to heal completely. If your symptoms don’t improve or they get worse, talk with your healthcare provider. You may need a repeat X-ray. If X-rays were taken, you will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.
When to seek medical advice
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
- Redness, warmth, or fluid drainage from your toe
- Pain or swelling increases
- Toes become cold, blue, numb, or tingly
StayWell last reviewed this educational content on 5/1/2018