Should I Run with a Broken Toe?

In the past few months I have been astonished by the number of people who have found my blog while searching on some variation of the question “can/should I run with a broken toe?”  They’ve  flipped through various posts on my blog and then…. what?   I’m guessing that they’ve gone out and run.  Because runners, we’re a predictable bunch…

So I’m dedicating this blog to providing an answer to the question above. Here in one convenient place.  With all kinds of caveats: I am not a doctor.  I have no special training, other than my running coach certification.  I speak only from experience.  And even then your injury may be different from mine.

My story:  Last September I fractured my middle toe by jamming it into the bed leg.  I was 95% sure it was broken at the time.  An x-ray later revealed that the toe bone closest to my foot was broken diagonally from corner to corner, more or less.  The toe swelled and part of my foot and toe turned black and blue.  I elevated and iced.  And I took ibuprofen and aspirin and ran/walked the Chicago Half Marathon on it two days later after, yes, googling for the answer  to the question “can I run with a broken toe?”  I buddy taped the toe to the one next to it for the race.  Yes, it hurt to run, but by halfway point it was fairly numb and I was able to pick up speed.  Running was actually less painful than walking.  I iced after the finish.  I did not seem any worse for the wear after the race, and so took the better part of two months off to recover.  I saw a doctor, who confirmed that it was broken.  I did some walking and ellipticizing during that time to maintain my fitness, probably too much.  And in December I started back to running gradually, but not gradually enough.  Soon a calf injury followed, and I returned to the doctor, who decided it had never fully healed and was termed a “nonunion.”  After a failed experiment with a bone stimulator, I wound up having toe surgery in March to create a fresh break and screw the bone together.  With doctor’s permission, I started running again in May while doing physical therapy and am now back to being able to run/walk 3-4 miles slowly as of the end of June.  I still have some pain when I run and some stiffness in the joint, which is likely from the screw and so the doctor is debating a second surgery to remove the screw.  So 10 months later, I am still a long way from where I was last September, but finally beginning to feel like a runner again.

So, can you run with a broken toe?  Yes, of course you can, especially if you have a high tolerance for pain.  But should you run?  I would say no.  You are better off taking 6-8 weeks off and letting the fracture heal and staying off your feet as much as possible.  I know, I know it’s only a toe!  I know, I know, you’ll lose your fitness.  You can’t possibly… Blah, blah, blah.  But you’d be surprised how important toes are for walking, balance, driving and so much more.   In my case, the doctor thinks I damaged the fractured bone ends by too much physical activity, which resulted in the nonunion.  So it seems that the less activity and motion to which your toe is subjected, the more quickly it is likely to heal.  You’ll also minimize the possibility that you’ll suffer other injuries from favoring your injured toe. In my case, I know I had significant calf pain in the injured leg from a shortened gait — even when walking.

So what DO you do when you’re injured.  I was not able to bicycle without pain, but I could use the elliptical for 30-45 minutes.  It’s a good time to do core work and upper body exercises.  And don’t forget to reduce your calorie intake, while making sure that you’re getting a healthy diet with plenty of vitamin D and calcium.  See a doctor and take his/her advice. Wear stiff soled shoes to help support your toe.

Oh yes, and did I say “see a doctor and take his/her advice….”  Do that — before you run again.

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27 responses to “Should I Run with a Broken Toe?

  1. Running Gaynor

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend!
    I broke my foot in December and lots of people have found my blog by searching for “running with a broken foot”. I was in a lot of pain and in plaster for four weeks so can’t even imagine trying to run on it. I did everything I was told and was back to normal running again after a few months, so resting the injury is definitely the best option!
    It didn’t take too long to build up my fitness again and I swam and cycled after having the plaster off to build up my strength.

  2. Pingback: Nine Lessons of a Broken Toe | Run to Your Life Coaching

  3. SO GLAD I CAME ACROSS YOUR BLOG! I HAVE THE SAME EXACT INJURY, THAT OCCURED IN THE SAME EXACT WAY. ITS BEEN ONE MONTH AND I’M ABOUT TO GO STIR CRAZY. MY TOE IS FEELING BETTER AND I SO DESPERATELY WANT TO GO RUNNING AGAIN BUT WITH YOUR STORY, I GUESS I’LL JUST BITE THE BULLET AND WAIT A FEW MORE WEEKS. THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCE SO THAT OTHERS CAN LEARN FROM IT.

  4. I hit my toe on my bed as well about 2 weeks ago. I’m fairly sure I heard a pop. It hurt pretty bad at first and my toe looked swollen but now it’s mostly just sore. I didn’t go to the doc because my friends tell me they wont do anything but tape your toes. Sounds like I should wait another month or two before running again though.

  5. I’m writing because I need advice! Thank you for writing your story! I find it gives me peace to read about what other runners go through. I am not what I call a huge runner .. No matter how much I run I’m still shocked that I can do it. Long story short … I was never a runner when I was younger. In fact I was, at one point, 270lbs. I have not been that heavy in a very long time but it still stays with me … About three years ago I started running and a good friend pointed me in the direction of marathoning. I am now about to run my third marathon. My marathon is November 17th. On Saturday I completed my second 20 mile run! I was feeling strong … Then that night I broke my pinky toe!!! I’m so very upset! I still have 21 days untill the marathon and the idea of taking any time off is scaring me to death!! What should I do? Today is Sunday and it is a rest day so I have been icing it and keeping it elevated. X-ray shows it is broken! Tomorrow my traing cals for 10 miles! I have decided to take tomorrow off as well …. When can I put my sneaker back on?!?!? I need advice! Help!

    • Rebecca, you got it xrayed — have you asked your doctor what you should do? Based on my experience, I would say that you should really think about NOT doing the marathon. I know that you don’t want to hear this. Really I do. But it takes 6-8 weeks for a fracture to heal. I am now nearly 14 months from my original injury and was not able to run ANY races in 2013 because I was an idiot and ran a half marathon on a broken toe, resulting in damage to the bone ends. I usually run about a dozen races a year of all distances. I’m struggling with side effects from my toe injury because I still don’t have 100% mobility in my injured toe. And I’ve gained about 15 pounds because I haven’t been as careful as I should be given my reduced mileage. It is amazing how important toes are! Today I ran just a little over 6 miles which was a huge accomplishment. In two weeks I will have surgery to remove the screw that was put in my toe. I am hoping that after a little time off to heal, I will be able to return to normal running — and hopefully do some half marathons next year. Trust me that I know 1) how mad you are at yourself for hurting that STUPID little toe 2) how much you want to do the marathon and 3) how much you don’t want to take time off. But take it easy and follow your doctor’s advice — you won’t regret doing this.

  6. I am 11 weeks into recovery from the exact same break(oblique displaced complete fracture of the right 3rd toe at the connector to the foot). I am a runner and have had the hardest time not running. My gait has changed due to the pain pressure and the boot I’ve had to wear. I’m finally to a place where I can walk 2.5 miles and will find out next week if ts healed enough to run on. I’ve lost significant fitness but have used the time to work on core strength. I’m worried I’ve done too much and been too active and am praying it’s connecting and is growing new bone. Send good thoughts my way.

  7. Wow. We’re a predictable bunch indeed! I broke my little toe 3 weeks ago and went to a bootcamp class immediately after. Two days later, I ran a 10k! I experienced the most excruciating pain for the first 2 miles or so, but once the endorphins kicked in, I was able to pick up some speed. At the end of the race my right hip anf IT band were in serious fire – probably from over compensating for my broken left toe.

    After that I took about a week off from running, but continued going to the gym. I started running again last week. A little slow and short at first, then adding a little more speed/mileage. 21 + miles later, and I’m off my feet again. My little toe is super swollen, and though it doesn’t hurt too much anymore, it doesn’t look too good. I’m resting it again. For real this time! Hopefully it gets better after a few days of RICE. If not, I guess I should go to the doctors and have it checked!

    Thanks for writing and sharing! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my craziness. 😉

  8. I bashed my little toe against the wooden foot of the sofa a week or so ago. Bloody sore at the time! Next night (no pain in toe at all) I tried running and my left leg was all over the place. I can only think it is the toe and that my gait is being negatively affected. Have tried once more with no joy and then tried barefoot and left foot was slapping down! I’m going out again tonight but clearly something as little as your pinky toe has a major impact on your gait.

    I will be running slowly tonight with my Wife and my biggest concern is picking up an injury through compensating.

  9. NOT what I wanted to hear! Broke my little toe yesterday. Dr said no running at all for at least 3 weeks or think about surgery. I figured what did he know, he didn’t know how important the half marathon that I signed up for 8 months ago that’s taking place one week from today is to me! I guess I’ll still take the trip and pick up the most expensive t-shirt I’ve ever purchased and cheer through tears from the sidelines. Thanks for the info…

  10. Hi all I’m glad I found this. I crushed my right toe, the one next to my big toe…with a 45 pnd free weight. It slipped out of my hand when I was taking off my shoulders doing squats. ugh. Super painful. The exray showed I’d shattered the end of the bone. I was told rest, buddy tape. I did that, but started on the eliptical and bike a few days after the injury. I started running on a tred mill about 2 weeks after a few miles at first and worked my way back up to 4 or so with alott of pain. Well about two weeks ago it was still not healing, and looked a bit purple and swollen. I saw a surgeon who exrayed it and said its NOT healing. Gave me a surgical boot and said no running and stay off it for three weeks. I was also told NOT to buddy tape. As soon as I stopped taping it started hurting. it now hurts almost all the time. I need a second opinion and I’m super scared about it.
    Its still swollen and I’m 3 months post the date of the injury.
    Does anyone have any exp with anything like this?
    I’m otherwise super fit, a litetime runner and super frustrated by all this.

  11. Similar story for me, ive broken my big toe 4 weeks before my first marathon. Cant walk on it at all just now never mind train but desparately want to do the run. Not sure what long term damage could be caused though..

    • Paul — Really I wouldn’t do it. I know how much you want to do this race, but the foot doctor was pretty sure that I basically pulverized the bone by running on it. When she went in to do the surgery after the break didn’t heal she said the ends of the bones had the consistency of soft tissue. And I drink a lot of milk! I wound up not really being able to run for the better part of year and had two surgeries. If I had to do it over again I would have just taken the 8 weeks and let it heal properly the first time around! Good luck to you!

  12. I broke my 4th toe right foot, next to the pinky toe. I buddy taped the toe to the 3rd toe. After 3 weeks I tested the toe on a run and only lasted 5 minutes due to the pain. I tested the toe after 4 weeks and ran 30 minutes. It was swollen and slightly painful, but I did R.I.C.E. The next day I went out for another 30 minute run and it was perfectly fine.

    Advice: Give your toe at least 4 weeks to heal. I biked indoors and outdoors to keep up my cardio and my sanity 🙂

  13. Bummer… Your right… But, BUMMER! I was hoping for something else. Elliptical, upper body work and core will get me thru though!

  14. I am on week 4 of a broken 2nd toe, left foot. I am about to train for a 10k/1/2 marathon in February. I have gained weight and am frustrated that it will not heal. Had a boot for 3 weeks, then tried to run on it for 20 minutes. Still very painful!

  15. Hi, like you predicted, I found your post by googling “should I run with…” Thanks for this. Like you, I jammed my toe into a piece of furniture and like you, I have a race in two days! Though not ideal, it’s nice to know someone else was able to rough it out.

  16. Just found this blog, I am exactly 6 weeks into a break of my big toe (2 vertical breaks and a hairline across the biggest break). Hospital said I could try a very slow jog on grass after 6 weeks, but Podiatrist is adamant I shouldn’t even be thinking about it for another 3-4 weeks. Obviously its already started repairing and I have some movement back in it, so being a runner who is desperate to run, I’m taking the hospitals advise….. wish me luck!!!

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article!!! I hurt my toe while doing karate. The middle toe of right foot. After a week decided to go check it out with x-ray as swelling mostly passed but pain didn’t diminish… Confirmed fracture. My problem even after 3 weeks us that I can’t step on the ball of the foot, it appears to getting more injured by the unfortunate kick than the toe. I’m glad I found your blog that gives me “why I should not” rather than painting ink colors “what I can”. Thank you again! I will make sure I’ll give it proper rest despite my marathon coming in two months… I might even skip it

    • Oh, I feel your pain! It’s even the very same toe that I hurt. To this day (years later) I still struggle a bit with tightness where the toe joins my foot and with calf tightness in that leg. Everything is connected of course! Good luck and hope you mend soon. Don’t push it to make the marathon – there will always be other races!

  18. Thank you for writing this-I broke my 5th toe 4 days ago (3wks before my 2nd marathon) & just deferred my entry til next year. The stubborn side of me was going to try to power through it, but risking my running future isn’t worth it. I appreciate you sharing your (unfortunate) experience to help other runners!

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