Stubbed Toe Treatment: When Do You Need To Seek Help?

It’s happened to almost all of us: perhaps you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom in the dark, and you whack your toe into the wall, or maybe you are trail running, and you ram your toe into a rock or root.

No matter how it happens, the experience of stubbing your toe is surprisingly painful, even when your stubbed toe injury is mild.

But, when is a stubbed toe serious? What if your stubbed toe still hurts after two weeks? Is stubbing a pinky toe bad? How long does a stubbed pinky toe hurt? Is stubbed toe bleeding normal?

If you find yourself in the conundrum—“I stubbed my toe and it still hurts!”—what should you do? How do you treat a stubbed toe?

In this guide, we will discuss what occurs when you stub your toe, the symptoms of a stubbed toe injury, the severity of a stubbed pinky toe versus other toes, what to do if your toe still hurts after two weeks, and what to do for treatment.

We will look at: 

  • What Is a Stubbed Toe?
  • How Long Does a Stubbed Toe Hurt?
  • How to Know If You Stubbed Or Broke Your Toe
  • How Do I Treat a Stubbed Toe?

Let’s get started!

A stubbed pinky toe.

What Is a Stubbed Toe?

A stubbed toe is an injury to one of the toes on your feet.

You can theoretically stub any toe, but stubbing pinky toes, big toes, and your longest toe, which for most people is the second toe or middle toe, are the most common stubbed toe injuries due to their vulnerable location.

A stubbed pinky toe commonly occurs when you ram the outer edge of the end of your foot into a wall or a corner, and a pinky toe either separates from the rest of the toes or gets jammed into whatever object you have struck with your foot.

Stubbing your longest toe occurs when your foot gets into something head-on without shoes because the longest toe extends beyond the ends of the other digits on your foot. 

Lastly, stubbing the big toe happens when you kick or ram the inner portion of your foot into a wall, corner, or object.

Ultimately, stubbed toes are generally accidental injuries that occur when you bump your toe against an object.

A stubbed toe.

It can be a very mild injury if your foot does not strike the object with much speed or force or if the object that your toe hits moves or is relatively soft.

For example, if you are walking slowly and bump into the leg of a chair, stubbing your pinky toe will be painful, but the pain should go away within a few minutes or hours.

On the other hand, if you were running fast to grab something and you rammed your barefoot into a chair leg, and the pinky toe was stubbed hard and maybe even was forced apart from your other toes around the chair leg, the stubbed pinky toe injury could be quite serious.

You may even have bleeding or a broken toe injury if you bang the toe hard or fast.

In the end, if you bump into a wall or immovable object, the severity of the pain will likely be more significant than if you stub a toe against a soccer ball or something relatively soft.

A stubbed toe against a wall absorbs more impact stress, while a stubbed toe whacked into a softer or immovable object receives less energy return. 

This concept harkens back to physics class with Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action or force, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

A stubbed toe.

Basically, this means that object A (your toe) exerts a force on object B (the obstacle, walk, etc.), and object B (the obstacle) also exerts an equal and opposite force on object A (your toe).

So, the more velocity, acceleration, and force with which you stub your toe, the more serious the injury will be.

The harder or immovable the object with which you stub your toe, the more energy will be returned to your toe rather than absorbed or lost in the movement of the object, so a more painful stubbed toe injury will occur.

You can theoretically get a toe stubbed against almost any object, but it is common to stub the toe door frame, table leg, other pieces of furniture, wall, curb, root or rock on a trail, raised part of an uneven sidewalk, or bed frame.

How Long Does a Stubbed Toe Hurt?

As discussed, a stubbed toe injury can be mild to severe.

A mild stub may hurt for only a few minutes. You may have pain that you can rub away by massaging the area for a few minutes or applying some ice.

But, what about cases where you find yourself saying, “I stubbed my toe and it still hurts after two weeks?” or “I stubbed my toe and I worry it’s broken!”

A bleeding toenail.

The reality is that stubbing toes is generally not a major cause for concern, but there are instances where it could be more serious such as when:

  • Your toe still hurts after two weeks or more, or you have stubbed toe pain that doesn’t seem to go away
  • Stubbing pinky toes results in broken toes or torn ligaments
  • Stubbed toe bleeding or significant swelling

In these cases, it is important to seek medical attention to get X-rays to evaluate whether you have a stubbed toe vs a broken toe or whether you incurred ligament damage when stubbing pinky toes or big toes.

In general, a stubbed big toe causes the most functional impairment while the toe heals because the big toe plays a significant role in ambulation when you walk and run.

The big toe is the last point of contact for a push-off and extends the lever length of your foot, so it gets bent (extended) upward when you walk or run and receives a surprisingly high percentage of your body weight.

Therefore, even with moderately severe stubbed big toe injuries, it is relatively common that your stubbed toe still hurts after two weeks or even three weeks, at least while you are running and walking. 

However, the stubbed toe pain should subside when you are not weight-bearing after a day or two if the injury is mild.

Stabbing pinky toes also tends to be more serious because the pinky toe is relatively weak. This can cause damage to the tiny ligaments and small intrinsic muscles that connect the pinky metatarsal bones and flex and extend the pinky-toe digit.

Fortunately, the pinky toe isn’t heavily involved in supporting your body weight when you walk and run, though you may still notice that your stubbed pinky toe hurts after two weeks or even longer if the injury is severe and you are standing for long periods of time barefoot. 

This is because the pinky toe plays a key role in helping balance your body, particularly when standing without shoes.

A bleeding toenail.

How to Know If You Stubbed Or Broke Your Toe

The signs and symptoms of a stubbed toe will depend somewhat on the toe you injure, how you stubbed the toe (straight on, did it get bent to the side, were you wearing shoes, what did you stub it on, etc.), as well as the severity of the stubbed toe injury.

However, here are some of the common symptoms of a stubbed toe:

  • Pain that may be intense or sharp and then fade to dull, achy, and throbbing.
  • Pain that may radiate up your foot towards your ankle or across to other toes.
  • Pain when you press on the toe or try to bend or move the toe.
  • Bruising, redness, or discoloration of the skin on the stubbed toe or on the nail bed.
  • Black, blue, or purple toenail or bleeding under the toenail of the stubbed toe.
  • Bleeding at the tip of your toe where the toenail ends.
  • Cracked toenail on the stubbed toe.
  • Swelling.
  • Stubbed toe pain walking, running, weight-bearing, or when trying to fall asleep at night.
  • Stubbed toe pain when trying to wear a shoe.

One of the most common questions people have when stabbing a toe is: “How do I know if I broke my toe when I stubbed it?”

A bruised pinky toe and foot.

Unfortunately, the only objective way to differentiate a stubbed vs. a broken toe is to get an X-ray

However, clinical signs of a broken toe include: 

  • Pain that lingers for days after stubbing your toe.
  • Radiating pain from the stubbed toe across your foot.
  • Toe pain that keeps you up at night even when you are not on your foot.
  • The need to limp with a stubbed toe injury after 24 hours or so.
  • Toe pain that lasts more than a week.
  • A bent toe or deformity.
  • Inability to bend or straighten your toe without severe pain.
  • Bleeding or significant injury to the nail bed.
  • Black or purple stubbed toe or general dark discoloration or bruising of the stubbed toe.
  • Weakness or numbness of the stubbed toe joint.

When you stub your toe, it is possible to incur a bone fracture, which is a broken toe, or you can dislocate the toe you stub, damage ligaments, nerves, muscles, tendons, or the fat pad on the toe.

A stubbed toe.

How Do I Treat a Stubbed Toe?

As with many injuries, prevention is always the best stubbed toe treatment path moving forward.

Of course, preventing a stubbed toe will not fix a stubbed toe or broken toe once you’ve sustained the injury.

However, taking steps to prevent stubbing a toe in the future is particularly important when you heal a stubbed toe injury; re-injuring the stubbed toe will increase the likelihood of breaking the toe while it is already swollen and compromised.

The best way to prevent stubbing your toe is to wear close-toed shoes around the house or as much as possible. If you stub your toe at night in the dark, consider using a nightlight, flashlight, or bathroom light so that you can see where you are going.

Running and walking around barefoot increases the likelihood of stubbing toes.

To treat a stubbed toe, listen to your body and modify activities as necessary.

Wearing shoes with a rigid sole can help alleviate pain.

A doctor checking out someone's toe.

This is because the stiff sole of the shoe will help provide a sturdy platform for your foot so that your weight is evenly distributed along the shoe and the force and pressure on your stubbed toe—along with the need to use your little intrinsic foot muscles for standing balance—will be greatly reduced.

Employ the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) and consider going to physical therapy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “buddy taping” to support your injured toe can also be helpful.

To buddy tape a stubbed toe, wrap the injured toe around the healthy toe next to it using athletic tape to gain more support. 

The best advice is that if the stubbed toe pain lingers after 1 to 2 days, you see visible deformity, significant or notable stubbed toe bleeding, or you cannot put weight on the toe without discomfort, you should seek medical attention immediately for evaluation.

For some preventative footcare tips, click here.

Manicured hands and feet.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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