Running With a Broken Toe: Everything You Need to Know

We have all done it. You either drop something heavy on your foot or slam a toe into something. Bang! The pain radiates through the toe up into your entire foot. Is it broken? Sprained badly? The first question you ask yourself is, “Is running with a broken toe possible?”

Why Toes Are Important

Your toes are stabilizing factors. They stabilize the foot each time it hits the ground as well as creating the push-off for every step you take forward.

While all of your toes play an important role in running and walking, your big toe is especially crucial. Providing additional leverage each time your foot strikes, the big toe is responsible for approximately 85% of the stability your foot receives.

broken big toe

Why is this important? Because believe it or not, it matters which toe you are inquiring about when asking if you can run with a broken toe. But first things first.

Suspecting It May Be Broken

So you’ve dropped a weight on your toe, or maybe you smacked it into the end table of the living room. What are the signs that it may be broken?

If you have:

Swelling on or around the toe

Bruising and/or discoloration on or around the toe

Pain and tenderness

Toe is clearly deformed/bumped/altered from how it normally appears

These are signs it may be broken. Should you get an X-ray? It is truly up to you; however, seldom does a physician do more than tape a toe if it is broken. Sometimes, a broken big toe requires a cast or boot of some type for stabilizing in order to adequately heal.

Always, a good rule of thumb is to seek the advice of a physician if something is getting worse or not improving.

Treatment for a Broken, Bruised or Badly Sprained Bone of Muscle

You may have heard the acronym RICE.

  • Rest – Try to stay off of the damaged area.
  • Ice – Although many people feel differently about this, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, ice is still recommended immediately after an injury to reduce swelling.
  • Compression – Compression is used to help reduce swelling also, and also to offer support.
  • Elevation – Elevating an injury above your heart will help reduce swelling and keep fluid from draining or pooling.

Can You Wear a Shoe?

If you cannot put on a running shoe, you should not run. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If swelling or pain causes you to be unable to put that shoe on, that is your body trying to tell you something. Take a little time off.

Assuming you can put a shoe on, how do you decide from there if it is safe to run or not?

Which Toe Is It?

If you have injured or broken one of the three toes in the middle, you can probably run fairly quickly without ill effects. A practice called buddy taping, you can tape two of these center toes together to offer stability.

Your little toe is far more important than most people realize. Did you know that running would be near impossible without this appendage? Having said that, it is very possible that you can suffer a small fracture in your little toe, tape it to the one next to it, and continue running.

broken toe buddy taping

The big toe does the most for the push-off while running.  Due to that fact, this is the one that will probably be a game-changer for your running. Unless you want to risk more time lost long term, you are probably better off being more conservative upfront when you sustain a big toe injury.

It can take six to eight weeks for a fractured toe to heal. In order to expedite that process, you are best off considering what you can do to keep your cardiovascular base at the front end of injury. When you’re taking time off of impact exercise, tax yourself by doing other things.

Workouts That Won’t Hurt That Toe!

Your heart is an extraordinary muscle, but it doesn’t realize if you’re running or not. What we mean is, as long as you are taxing your cardiovascular system, you won’t lose that part of your fitness.

While you are waiting for that injured toe to heal, there are many things you can do. Most exercises that take place in water are not weight-bearing. You could join a water aerobics class or put on a floatation belt and try some aqua jogging! Also, don’t cast aside the idea of swimming. Although often people think of themselves as not good at swimming, a few lessons with a swim instructor could have you bilateral breathing while you stroke and kick with efficiency!

Cycling is also an excellent thing you can try. If road cycling is painful, a recumbent bicycle will take the pressure off of the foot. When rehabilitating from a broken ankle a few years ago, I found a recumbent bike was an awesome way to get my heart rate up and work up a sweat!

Who knows, you might find yourself an awesome new form of cross-training! Some athletes report that injury was just the catalyst they needed to enter the exciting world of the triathlon.

So You’re Saying Maybe???

If you’re leaving this blog wondering if your questions have been answered, you’re not alone. So many factors need to be taken into consideration when determining if you can run with a broken or injured toe. Can you put on a shoe? How bad is the pain? Does it get worse with walking? Does it worsen with running?

Have you given your body adequate time to heal? Is your body showing symptoms that may require a visit to a physician? Would taking a short amount of time off now save you trouble in the long run? Am I dying to run because I feel compelled to train or to release stress? If it’s the second one, is there something else I can do?

Lastly, as yourself this and be really honest: Does it hurt so much that although inside I know I should rest, I don’t want to. If the answer to that is yes, find someone close to you to act as your voice of reason. If all logic says rest, you need to listen. If you want to realign the toes and release the pressure while running, consider using toe separators for your next run.


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