It’s happened to most of us: you get up in the middle of the night, stumble to the bathroom in the dark, and then wham—you accidentally smash your barefoot toe into the wall. The next morning, the toe is black and blue and throbs with a constant reminder of the mishap from the previous night.
Now what? Can you run with a broken toe?
Unfortunately, a broken toe is rather common. In most cases, a broken toe is not a running injury per se, as runners usually break a toe doing something other than running. However, a broken toe can absolutely impact your ability to run and interfere with your training.
With that said, running with a broken toe is possible in some cases as long as you take certain precautions. In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- Can You Run With a Broken Toe?
- When Can You Start Running With a Broken Toe?
- Can You Run With a Broken Big Toe?
- Can You Run With a Broken Pinky Toe?
- Risks of Running With a Broken Toe
- Tips for Running With a Broken Toe
- What Cross-Training Can Runners Do With a Broken Toe?
- Tips for Rehabbing a Broken Toe
- What Can You Do to Heal a Broken Toe Faster?
Ready? Let’s jump in!
To learn about running with a broken toe, we spoke with Giancarlo Sossi, a Physical Therapist and Co-Director of Thrive Physio Plus in Australia, who specializes in rehabilitation and physio exercises for runners.
He helped us answer the ever-important question—Can you run with a broken toe?—and gave actionable advice about doing so.
Can You Run With a Broken Toe?
Sossi says that depending on what stage of healing you are in and which toe is broken, you may be able to run with a broken toe.
“If you have significant pain while walking, chances are you won’t be able to run,” notes Sossi. “However, if your pain is mild and tolerable when running, as well as your pain settling back down to baseline after 24 hours, with no further inflammatory response, you could continue to run.”
In other words, start with the walk test. If your toe hurts walking, you should not run.
If walking feels okay, try easy running. If running with a broken toe only elicits a mild increase in pain, and that increase returns to baseline by the next day, you should be able to run.
Of course, listen to your body though, and err on the side of caution, particularly in the initial stages of the injury.
When Can You Start Running With a Broken Toe?
Most runners want to jump immediately back into running after breaking a toe, but this isn’t always the wisest move for the long term.
“A broken toe usually takes 4-8 weeks to heal, depending on how bad the break is,” explains Sossi. “To be on the conservative side, waiting until you can run without or with very minimal pain (less than a 1-2/10 intensity) is the way to go.”
While this advice is certainly the best practice when it comes to answering the questions, can you run with a broken toe, it’s not absolute.
“If you’re desperate to run or have an event that you absolutely need to train for, and want to take on the risks of running with a broken toe, a general rule is to start to run when the pain is tolerable,” says Sossi, who adds that for most people, this is around a 4-5/10 on a pain scale.
Can You Run With a Broken Toe (Big Toe)?
Running with a broken toe is not advisable when you break your big toe. “Your big toe acts as a lever from which to propel yourself forward when running as well as being a strong stabilizer of the foot,” explains Sossi. “Therefore, a break in your big toe presents the greatest challenge to being able to run.”
A broken big toe will impact your running form and compromise your ability to push off. Ultimately, if you have to shuffle along to prevent irritating the toe, you may alter your biomechanics and increase your risk of further injury, even elsewhere in the body.
Can You Run With a Broken Toe (Pinky Toe)?
The pinky toe is one of the most frequently broken toes. While it plays an important role in balance, the pinky toe has minimal involvement in weight-bearing. As such, running with a broken pinky toe, or other lesser toes is often feasible.
According to Sossi, “Although the other toes are important, they aren’t as crucial to the mechanics of running as your big toe, so you may actually be able to return to running quicker if they are broken.”
Risks of Running With a Broken Toe
Before you lace up your shoes and head out for your run, you should consider the risks of running with a broken toe.
Sossi says the risks of running on a broken toe include exacerbating the break, delaying healing time, and causing other injuries higher up your leg (ankle, knee, hip, and even low back) due to altering your running stride.
Tips for Running With a Broken Toe
If you’ve determined that you can run with your broken toe but you’d like to do it as safely and painlessly as possible, Sossi has a few tips:
Buddy Tape the Broken Toe
“When running with a broken toe that isn’t your big toe, you can ease the discomfort and spread the load away from your injured toe, by buddy taping your toes together,” advises Sossi.
Buddy taping involves using medical tape to adjoin your broken toe with the healthy adjacent toe. For example, if you’re trying to run with a broken pinky toe, wrap the pinky toe together with the ring finger toe.
Buddy taping lends stability to the broken toe, minimizes any loss of balance, and helps reduce unnecessary movement. It reduces pain and can give the broken toe the stability it needs to heal.
Return to Running Conservatively
Sossi says you should start back to running gradually, erring on the side of being overly conservative until you assess how your toe handles running and recovers afterward.
“An example of this would be starting with half the distance you would normally run or running for 1 minute on, 1 minute off, and monitor how your toe responds in the 24 hours afterward,” explains Sossi.
“If your pain is no worse and there isn’t an increased inflammatory response (increased swelling and redness), then that would be a good distance or time to start building from,” he adds. “If your symptoms are increased as a result, you should reduce your time/distance.”
What Cross-Training Can Runners Do With a Broken Toe?
Whether you’re unable to go running with the broken toe or want to cut back and supplement with alternative exercise, low-impact cross-training with a broken toe is a safer way to keep up your fitness while your broken toe heals.
Examples of good cross-training exercises when rehabbing a broken toe include cycling, swimming, aqua jogging, and elliptical, although any form of exercise is fine as long as the activity doesn’t elicit pain.
Sossi adds that anti-gravity treadmills, such as the Alter-G, are a great way to keep your mileage up in a healthier and less painful way.
As Sossi explains, “These machines use differential pressure to reduce your body weight and therefore load on your joints, which may be enough to allow you to run with a broken toe when you otherwise wouldn’t.”
Tips for Runners to Rehab a Broken Toe
Unfortunately, bone healing takes time and there isn’t much even the most dedicated runner can do to expedite healing a broken toe.
However, as with any injury—as well as when you are healthy—you can and should—strength train.
“Keeping the muscles around your foot, ankle, and calf as strong as possible when injured, will ensure that your performance suffers as little as possible when starting running again,” explains Sossi. “Strength training is also research-proven to significantly improve running performance and reduce injury risk in runners.”
What Can You Do to Heal a Broken Toe Faster?
Sossi says there are other things you can do to speed up the healing process of a broken toe, including fueling your body with good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, and reducing your alcohol intake.
He also urges runners to listen to their bodies and exercise patience in healing and returning to running.
“If you try to return to running too soon, you take on the risk of making your injury worse and consequently missing out on more running further down the track,” warns Sossi.
So, when trying to decide if you can go running with a broken toe, consider which toe is broken, how much it hurts, and whether you can run with minimal pain without compromising your form.
When in doubt when answering the question can you run with a broken toe, give the body a week or so to heal, then reassess. Cross-train and strength train, eat well, get your sleep, and take care of your body in the meantime. You’ll get out there again soon.
Here are some crosstraining options you can try out until you are healthy and ready to run again: