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A sprained toe occurs when the ligaments that connect the bones in a toe joint are damaged by direct impact, a twisting motion, or another unnatural motion. The foot is active whenever one walks or otherwise moves in a standing position, so treating a sprained toe can be challenging, as part of the treatment includes immobilizing the toe to keep the injury from worsening. Immediately after the injury occurs, one should apply ice to keep swelling down and elevate the foot to help prevent pain and swelling. The injury may require several days to weeks to heal, depending on how much rest the injured person is able to get.
The RICE method is often very effective in treating a sprained toe. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest allows the ligaments to heal naturally, while ice can ease pain and reduce swelling. Compression can also ease pain and reduce swelling, though compression on a toe can be challenging unless the injured toe is the big toe. Elevation improves blood circulation to the injury and can prevent undue swelling. While it may be difficult to do so, it is important to attempt to immobilize the injured toe as much as possible. This may mean simply staying off one's feet and getting plenty of rest, or it may mean taping the injured toe to another toe next to it to limit movement. Any taping or compression should be done very carefully to avoid re-injuring the toe.
Recovering from a sprained toe can take anywhere from several days to several weeks. Once the pain begins to subside, the ligaments must be reconditioned for strength and mobility, which means the injured person will have to begin doing toe exercises and light walking. During these exercises, it is important to pay close attention to the toe; if the exercises become painful, they should be stopped immediately. Supportive shoes should be worn when walking and exercising, and women should avoid wearing high heel shoes until the toe is completely healed.
If pain persists for several days or weeks, or the pain is so intense after the injury occurs that the injured person cannot function normally, a doctor's visit may be in order. Ligaments can tear just as muscles can, and if a ligament in a sprained toe tears, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair it. Surgery is usually considered a last resort, although only a doctor can make a determination as to the best course of action.