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It's easy -- and not unusual --to injure your toes. Dropping things on your foot, stubbing your toe in the dark or catching it on objects can all inflict painful damage that can make walking difficult. It's not always easy to distinguish between a sprain and a broken toe. It doesn't always matter which injury you have, because the treatment remains the same whether you've got a sprain or a break. Talk to your doctor if you think you've sprained or broken your toe.
Stopping the Swelling
Rest, ice, compression and elevation -- the RICE treatment for joint, muscle and bone injuries -- decreases swelling that inevitably occurs with any soft tissue or bone injury. For the first few days after an injury, resting your foot can help either a sprain or a break. Applying ice two to three times a day for 20 minutes and elevating your foot so that your toes are higher than the level of your heart reduces swelling. Place ice in a leakproof plastic bag covered with a cloth over the injured area.
Immobilizing a Toe
Sprains and breaks hurt, which limits your mobility. This is beneficial, since staying off your foot keeps you from making an injury worse. But sooner or later, you need to move around and your toe needs to stay securely in place. Toes rarely require casts. The simplest way to immobilize an injured toe is to tape it to the uninjured toe next to it. If you wrap a toe to immobilize it or tape it to the toe next to it, make sure that you don't cut off blood circulation to the toe. The toe should remain pink. Place gauze between the two toes as cushioning and to absorb moisture.
Decreasing the Pain
In most cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, more commonly known as NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen can handle the pain of a sprained or broken toe after the first day or two of injury. NSAIDS can cause stomach upset; taking them with food can help decrease discomfort.
Preventing Further Damage
Wearing shoes that limit your toe's movement can help prevent further damage by allowing the bone to heal. Shoes that keep the toe from moving too much also help keep swelling down and prevent discomfort. Wear a supportive shoe with a stiff sole that won't allow your toe to bend when you walk. Your doctor might suggest a special shoe designed with a stiff sole to protect your toe while it heals.