FYI: Do I Really Need My Pinky Toe?
And without it, could I do everything a five-toed human does?
Walking, running and skipping with just four toes may be easier than you think.
“If you’re born without a pinky toe or have an accident and it’s removed, you can completely do everything you wanted to do,” Dr. Anne Holly Johnson, instructor in orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, says.
So why do we have pinky toes?
The answer goes back to the evolutionary history of humans, explains Dr. Anish Kadakia, assistant professor in orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University.
“Primates use their feet to grab, claw, to climb trees, but humans, we don’t need that function anymore,” Kadakia says. “Clearly we’re not jumping up and down trees and using our feet to grab. We have toes embryologically, evolutionary for that particular reason because we descended from apes, but we don’t need them as people.”
While our feet no longer help us grab, they help us stand–especially important are the bones that connect our toes to our ankle.
We owe our balance to the 26 bones that make up the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot. The forefoot contains the toes. The big toe has two major bones and the rest have three little bones. The toes connect to the midfoot by five long bones called metatarsals, one for each toe. The metatarsals are similar to our knuckles. The hindfoot connects to the midfoot by cuneiform and cuboid bones. These are connected to the ankle bone, the talus.
Though all the bones in the foot come together to form the structure of the foot, the main bones responsible for our balance are the metatarsals, explains Dr. Wenjay Sung, attending physician at White Memorial Medical Group.
“We walk like a tripod fashion, where the big toe knuckle, the fifth toe knuckle and the heel, have a tripod walking ability,” Sung says. “If you remove one part of that tripod, you lose balance.”
So even though the pinky toe itself has no functional value, removing the metatarsal would make running, walking and skipping nearly impossible.
This story was produced in partnership with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. For more FYIs, go here.
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How to Know if Your Toe Is Broken
A toe fracture is a common injury that can be caused by dropping something on your foot, kicking something, or just severely stubbing your toe. You can hurt your toe without actually breaking it, so sometimes it’s tough to determine how serious the injury is. Luckily, there are several ways that you can find out whether or not your toe is broken.
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Part Two of Two:
Caring for a Broken Toe Edit
- It depends how badly you injure it. Give it a short time for the pain to calm down. If the pain goes away, then it probably is on the mend and isn’t broken. If you think it’s broken or it remains really sore to walk on, see a doctor right away.
- Don’t walk on your toe — just sit down and ask someone in your house to bring you a pack of ice. Then make an appointment to see the doctor or go to the emergency room if you’re in a lot of pain.
- It is probably broken. If the color doesn’t change by the third or fourth day, see a doctor.
- You will only have to wear a special cast if your toe is broken in more than one place or if the bones are not fitting together properly. Many people who break their toes do not need to wear a cast at all.
- You may need crutches if the break is severe, but many people do not need crutches while recovering from a broken toe.
- You should see a doctor to know for sure, but it is possibly broken or fractured.
- Yes, it is normal to have small twinges of pain weeks after the injury. Follow up with your doctor to evaluate your toe.
- It depends on the severity of the break but typically, a toe can heal in six to eight weeks as an average. If it’s less severe, subtract a bit of time and if more severe, add some time. If it’s a compound fracture or a fracture in multiple locations, you should get the answer from your doctor.
- Visit the emergency services room or your local doctor, it needs seeing to by a professional as it may be infected.
- Make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Quick Overview Edit
If your toe hurts when you put pressure on it, and your pain is persistent, your toe may be broken. Compare your potentially broken toe to your healthy toes to see if it is swollen in size, misshapen, and/or an irregular color, such as red, yellow, blue, or black. If the pain, swelling, and discoloration persist for more than a couple of days, see your doctor to verify the break with an x-ray and get treatment. To get advice from our Medical reviewer on how to care for a broken toe, scroll down!
RyanHupfer.comTravel, writing, and maximizing a minimal lifestyle.
- June 20, 2012
- 37 Comments
So this happened on Sunday. I broke my pinkie toe and it’s not very awesome.
My pinkie toe moved and the steel leg of the coffee table didn’t and now I have to deal with it.
The good (and somewhat hard to believe) news is that the doctor told me I’d still be able to run the SF Marathon at the end of July with no issues. She said I should be able to run in less than two weeks and It’s only a little over a month away so I’m not sure if I’m so confident in my superhuman powers of healing, but I guess we’ll see.
Going through this process I figured out some answers to questions that ran through my head initially after accidentally kicking the leg of a coffee table and I thought it might be helpful to lay them out for any of you who might happen to find yourself is the same situation. If you have any other questions you need answered, let me know in the comments — I’m more than happy to help.
How do you know if you broke your pinkie toe?
Oh, don’t worry — you’ll know this answer within 5 minutes of hitting it on something. I’ve hit my toe into things many, many times but this one was different for a few different reasons.
- It started throbbing and felt numb when I touched it.
- It physically looked broken as my pinkie toe was separated much more from the second toe than it should be.
- It just kept hurting and within 10-15 minutes the swelling was starting to show up and the pain was only getting worse. It actually didn’t hurt that much after the initial pain when I was just sitting there with no pressure on it, but when I tried to walk on it there’s no way that was happening.
Do you need to go to the doctor for a broken pinkie toe?
Most people you talk to would that you don’t need to go to the doctor for a broken pinkie toe and they would mostly be right. But, I had read that some people needed to have their bones reset to get the back in place so I didn’t really want to risk it. All you can do once you’re bone is all lined up is to splint your toe with some tape and wait for it to heal. If you can see the doctor for cheap then I say go for it, but if not there’s a pretty good chance you can just splint it and your pinkie toe will heal up just fine. If you have any questions or feel like you broke it really bad, go to the doctor asap.
How do you splint a broken pinkie toe with tape?
Being shown how to tape up my pinkie toe is the best thing I got from going to the doctor. She used a thicker, stretchy, one-sided tape that I haven’t been able to find online anywhere that really worked great for splinting and has no problems staying on all day long. The splinting method is simple and it looks like the photo below. That was the splinting job that was done by the doctor during my visit to the hospital so it’s a good example of how to do it.
How long will it take to heal a broken pinkie toe?
I’m not sure about this answer (since it just happened two days ago), but the doctor told me that the bone should be healed enough in 10-14 days to be able to jog/run. She said within 5 weeks it will be really strong and pretty much back to where it was (although there might be some pain to deal with). I’m two days into my healing process and I am already to the point to where I’m not needing to limp anymore. It’s bruising up, but the swelling is really the only thing that’s slowing it down. I’m elevating it as much as I can and that’s really the key to making it heal faster. In other words all you should focus on is splinting it, staying off of it and keeping it elevated as much as possible.
I really hope all of this helps you out and if you need anything else let me know. It’s never fun going through these things, but they happen. All we can do it take care of the injury as much as we can and get healed up as soon as possible.
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just did it this morning really sucks had to move my toe back over because it was on the side of my foot really weird postion you could really tell i broke it hope the tape method works have to work. Thanks for the info
Thanks for this. My problem mine has been two weeks and two days and it’s throbing it doesn’t look broken but I keep touching it and it’s sore to the touch. I’m away to tape it up.
Yeah, tape that thing up and you’ll be good to go in no time. I’m glad this helped and happy healing!
I dropped a heavy bottle of salsa on my pinkie today… pretty sure it’s at least fractured. Will be doing the splinter-tape job!
Ouch! That sounds more painful than kicking the leg of a coffee table. I hope you heal up quick and I’m glad I helped you find what you needed. Happy healing!
Yeah I kicked a metal bar, broke my pinkie toe. Trouble is I work on my feet 8 hours per day. By end of day I hurt. Going to try your splint method. Looks more effective. Hope my job won’t kill healing process for me. It has been 10 days already since.
I think my daughter just broke her toe practicing gymnastics here at home. Ugh! Of course she has a meet in 3 weeks. Off to find some good tape, thank you for this blog entry!
I broke my pinkie toe a few summers ago from tripping over a tree and it never really healed all the way and then I broke my toe yesterday playing football. I think I’ll try the tape this time.
I just broke my toe an hour ago and it’s already bruising, swelling and hurting when I walk on it. The picture is worth a thousand words. I am going to the pharmacy to get some tape. I have duct tape but thought that might be a bit too much. Thank you for your blog!
Stubbed mine on a wooden chair yesterday, instantly got swollen and black and blue with a lot of throbbing pain. Thank you for the splinting method!
Great info! I tried this taping strategy and can walk easier. Thanks for sharing!
I kicked the wall on sunday and my toe has gone all swollen and it was out of place i put it back in place but what I’m worried about is I have cross country in 2 weeks and practice on every Monday Tuesday and Wednesday what do I do about that
I don’t think I have broken my toe, third day now, it is just a bit numb, but I can walk, even though after a long day it starts hurting a bit. However, inbetween the two little toes the skin is badly ripped with insides showing:/ the bleeding had stopped the next day. During the day I buddy tape them together, but in the evening I let them breathe, the wound is not healing and I don’t really know how to approach this.. Any opinions?
Just broke my pinkie toe last night…really painful : ( …but I just wanted to give anyone looking into home remedies a method of elevating you foot without pillows…find a hook you can screw into your ceiling and screw it in above your favorite lounging spot…example: i put mine above my couch so I could lay back…once you’ve done that get a string or something similar and tie it to the hook…then on the other end tie the string to its self at a comfortable height and there you have it…a homemade harness/sling to hold your foot in the air
Also you can fold up a T-shirt or something to cushion the string so there is no added pain or discomfort
Thank you for this! I’ve apparently been splinting this all wrong, and your taping has made my foot walk-able again! Hooray!
Thanks for the picture. Looks better than what I came up with.
It’s amazing how much I move my toes when doing normal everyday things. Pain is a good teacher and every move is a lesson.
So were you able to run your race? How did you maintain fitness until then? Broke my toe with 3 weeks till next Half Marathon.
No, I wasn’t able to run my race. It took me nearly a year to get back to where I was before I broke it, too which was a total bummer. But, eventually I got there.
Nearly a year to get back to where you were fitness/running wise, or your toe? Yikes
Do you if this method would work with a toddler who has a hammer toe?
Thank You sooooo much . I hate not being able to move around. Now im forced to not work this sucks. Should i stay home an entire week from work or go in on Friday? . Not to mention it will mess up my pay
I broke my pinkie toe by putting my walker on it and baring all my weight on it (now on purpose I have nurse damage in the foot) it is healing well but still bruised. I had broken it years ago and it set wrong and looked funny. Funny thing is this time it looks normal again.
Thank you so much Ryan, this totally steered me on the right direction to Pinky Toe recovery…
Omg my exact story thanks. I’d love a follow up.
Thanks for the info. I had surgery on my big toe Friday & hit my pinkie toe on a metal cart today(tues) My doc was not pleased I wasn’t wearing my boot! So I didn’t want to ask him how long it would take to heal. He redressed my surgery toe & wrapped my pinkie toe to my forth toe. It hurts more than the surgery toe! I’m 57 & this is my first brokenbone. Figures ….since I was bragging about that 6 weeks ago when I fell & injured my foot!
I’ve just broke my pinkie on a table leg. I’ve taped it up like your picture and I’m elevating it now so hopefully your method will work. Thankyou Lynn.
Just happened to me too. Thanks for the write up.
Thank you for sharing. Great job!
I wish I’d gotten the same response from doctor. She realigned it (podiatrist, two days after the ER trapped it), splinted it, and instructed me to do as little weight-bearing as possible for 6 weeks. I have to wear “the boot” whenever I have to walk. (My husband’s running for office, and we’re in that early stage of meetings, events, and knocking on doors. I can’t do the third until mid-November, and I’m cutting back on meetings, but events are a requirement.
I asked if I could get a boot in navy blue, just to give me more wardrobe choices. That wasn’t a serious question, but a real problem is finding a semi- dress shoe that’s the same height as the boot, so I don’t put more pressure on it when I stand or walk. Along with a host of other women’s wardrobe issues, you can’t find a shoe when you can’t go shopping.
I just had to resplint it because the “popsicle stick” moved, which brought me to your page. Thanks for the picture! (And the comment section. I know my venting didn’t add much to the conversation.)
Thanks for the information. I broke my right pinkie toe when I was packing away the groceries & knocked down the jar of vegemite. (I am not a happy vegemite now). Was in pain after I went ten pin bowling Monday (23rd October).
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Hey there! I’m Ryan Hupfer (but most people call me Hup) and I’ve been traveling around the world for the past two years. Before that I worked in San Francisco for startups like Lyft.
Can I Have A Second Toenail On My Pinky Toe?
Have you noticed at the side of your pinky toe what appears to be a second toenail? Looks weird, doesn't it. Maybe you've tried to pick it off, and then lo and behold, it returned.
So what is this excess nail on your toe? It's actually not a nail, it's a corn. It's called a Lister's corn, named after Dr. Joseph Lister, a 19th century doctor who fought for clean conditions in operating rooms. And yes, he got a corn named after him.
If you'll recall, a corn occurs when there is an excess amount of pressure or friction, usually from shoes, on an area of the foot or toes. The foot will try to compensate for this friction by creating an extra layer of skin to protect itself. That works out OK for a while, and then more. and more. and more. and MORE skin becomes a bump on your foot. Now we have a problem of a different sort.
Corns are not a serious foot ailment, but can be unsightly and painful at times. When you're putting on your favorite shoes your corn will make you do a little yelp. Corns can become infected from rubbing from shoes.
A Lister's corn typically forms on the inside or outside of your pinky toe. This hard corn is different from traditional corns because it can form with or without shoe pressure. They develop because of pressure on the toe and the toe itself. Those with Lister's corns usually have small toes that roll outward, and the corn forms because of the constant rubbing against the ground.
So how do you know how have a Lister's corn? If you have a hard, thick, bump on the outside or inside of your toe, or what looks like an oddly shaped toenail, it's likely a Lister's corn.
To prevent Lister's corns from recurring, wear shoes that have a wide toe box that will let your toe lie flat. You can cover the corn with a pad as well to relieve some of the friction that is occurring.
For those who have Lister's corns that just won't go away, your podiatrist may do one of two procedures to relieve the pressure. When the corn is on the inside of the toe, they will do a condylectomy, where they file away part of the bone that's rubbing against the ground. Patients are typically back on their feet within a few days of this procedure. If the Lister's corn is on the outside of the toe, podiatrists will do a terminal Symes procedure, where they will remove the small bone at the top of the toe. Patients usually recover within a few weeks.
If you believe have a foot problem and do not currently see a podiatrist, call one of our six locations to make an appointment.
Connecticut Foot Care Centers
Podiatrists in CT
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- I Have A Really Large Toe!
- iTCH rECOVERING fROM fOOT sURGERY
- Marcia Gay Harden Recovering From Foot Surgery
- What Questions Should I Ask Before Foot Surgery?
- No Dancing In the Moonlight For Singer Jessie J
- Mark Harper On Why Table Dancing Is Not A Good Idea
- June (9)
- Can I Have Carpal Tunnel In My Foot?
- My Second Toe Hurts!
- Bone Spurs In the Foot
- My Foot Is Collapsing! Help!
- Why Do My Toes Turn Outward?
- My Feet Are Flat. Is That Normal?
- I Have A Stiff Big Toe!
- Why Won’t My Foot Move?
- What Is the Bump On the Side Of My Foot?
- May (20)
- Why Does My Child Have A Flat Foot?
- What Is That Extra Bone In My Foot?
- Is 49ers Crabtree’s Season Done Already?
- My Ankle Hurts When I Point My Toes!
- What Is the Bump On the Back Of My Heel?
- What Is A High Arched Foot?
- Why Do My Toes Curl?
- What Is This Bump On My Big Toe?
- Osteomyelitis of the Foot
- Xanthomas On The Achilles Tendon
- Kaposi’s Sarcoma
- What Is A Stone Bruise?
- Country Singer Trace Adkins Breaks Foot
- Frankie Muniz Breaks Foot
- Entourage Star Jerry Ferrara Sprains Ankle
- Shoe Shopping Tips
- DWTS Maksim Chmerkoskiy Needs Ankle Surgery
- Ancient Shoes Found In Egypt
- Evolution Explains High-Heels
- Brook-Alexander Match Cancelled
- April (9)
- Nene Sits Out Last 2 Wizards Games
- Chemotherapy and My Toenails
- Picking Out Shoes For the Office
- Foot Tips For While You’re On Vacation
- Is Wearing Heels During Pregnancy A Good Idea?
- Obesity Increases Gout Risk
- Spring 2013 Shoe Trends
- Shia LeBeouf Limping around NYC
- Shinedown Bassist Eric Bass Has Ankle Sprain
- March (12)
- What To Look For In New Hiking Boot
- Dodgers’ Gordon Sprains Ankle
- Jeter Scratched From Game With Ankle Stiffness
- What Is Chilbains?
- Brandon Knight’s Terrible Week
- Chelsea Handler’s Assistant Chuy Bravo Breaks Foot
- What Are Character Shoes?
- Men Used To Wear Heels.
- Carlos Beltran Brusies Foot
- This Little Piggy Went To the Pyramid.
- Blue Jackets Lose Wisniewski With Broken Foot
- What’s Up With Kristen Stewart and Her Feet.
- February (18)
- Shoes Important In Roman Times
- Kelly Osbourne Has A Foot Accident In. The Restroom?
- Foot Massage To Relieve Cancer Symptoms?
- Azarenka Out of Dubai Championships
- How To Pick Out Work Shoes
- Port Adelaide Takes Another Hit
- Power Flats Go From Work To Drinks
- Florida’s Murphy Has “Tweaked” Ankle
- Lady Gaga Cancels Concerts, Suffering From Synovitis
- Keep Feet Healthy During Cold Weather
- What Are Periungual Warts?
- Tips To Cleaning Shoes and Boots
- Nothing To Sing About: Demi Lovato Injures Foot
- Foot Grooming For Men
- Oregon’s Artis Out Indefintely With Foot Injury
- Grizzlies’ Conley Has Right Ankle Sprain
- Walking Down the Aisle In Comfortable Style
- No Broken Bones For Michigan’s Morgan
- January (13)
- How To Put A New Insole In A Shoe
- Australian Soccer Player Matera In Moon Boot
- Baby Boomers and Their Feet
- Australia’s Clarke Rolls Ankle
- Mark Wahlberg Has Toenail Surgery
- Tips For Sweaty Feet
- Severe Ankle Fractures Linked To Obesity
- Serena Williams Rolls Ankle, Goes On To Win
- Wear Patterns and Shoes
- Basic Foot Care Tips
- Anatomy of the Foot
- Got Large Feet? Shoe Industry Taking Notice
- How To Give The Perfect Foot Massage
- December (27)
- Myths About Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Shoes For Baby Boomers
- Bobcats’ Mullens Out With Serious Ankle Sprain
- Packers’ Cobb To Test Ankle Today
- A Lump on My Foot: Ganglion Cyst
- TCU’s Ray Out 6-8 Weeks With Foot Injury
- Winter Hard on Feet
- Alabama’s Barrett Jones Talks About Foot Injury
- Tennis Ace Casey Dellacqua Has Tear in Foot
- The Way You Walk A Sign of Alzheimer’s?
- Do Our Feet Talk?
- Senator Van de Putte Recovering From Foot Surgery
- Rugby’s Trengove Out Another 6 Weeks
- FSU’s Ian Miller Shut Down With Bone Bruise
- Vitamin C May Help Men With Gout
- Michigan’s Max Bielfeldt Sidelined With Ankle Sprain
- Not All Tumors Are Cancerous: Osteochondromas
- Warriors’ Bogut On Complicated Foot Recovery
- Steelers’ Ike Taylor Out With Fractured Ankle
- Diana Ross Breaks Ankle
- Jockey Ramon Dominguez Out With Bruised Foot
- Poor Foot Circulation? Try These Tips
- Muse’s Matt Bellamy Breaks Foot, Cancels Shows
- Switching To Winter Shoes
- December Shoe of the Month: Fashion Sneakers
- Why Do New Shoes Need Breaking In?
- Hornet’s Davis Out With Stress Reaction
- November (23)
- My Feet Are Looking Ugly!
- Safe Levels of Lead Linked to Gout
- Does Your Child Have A Foot Problem?
- Michigan’s Toussaint Done For Season
- Cowboys’ Sean Lee on Injured Reserve
- Will Dwayne Wade’s Foot Continue To Bother Him?
- Bowler Trent Copeland Trips, Injures Ankle
- Walking Funny? Could It Be Equinus?
- UFC Cung Le Almost Missed Match Because Of Foot Injury
- Brewers’ Prospect Kjelgaard Has Foot Surgery
- Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Foot and Ankle
- Cardinals’ Schofield on Injured Reserve
- Todd Herremans On Injured Reserve
- How To Stretch Your Feet
- Australian Rugby Player Clark on Road To Recovery
- Joe Mays Placed On Injured Reserve
- Net’s Williams Has Bone Spurs
- Should Men Wear Socks?
- How to Soak Dry, Cracked Feet
- Ipswich’s Paul Taylor To Have Foot Surgery
- Darren McFadden Suffers Another Foot Injury
- How Nutrition Affects Your Feet
- November Shoe of the Month: Peep Toes
- October (16)
- High Heels Worth Pain For Most Women
- Toxic Polish On Your Toenails?
- What Personality Are You? Your Shoes Are An Indication
- Foreign Objects in the Foot
- DWTS Kelly Monaco Breaks Toe
- Myths About Warts
- What Is A Soft Tissue Biopsy?
- Chronic Ankle Instability
- I Think I Broke My Toe- What Can A Podiatrist Do?
- Risk Factors of Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Annie Lennox Cancels Performance Due to Foot Injury
- What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?
- Laker’s Steven Blake Out With Puncture Wound
- October Shoe of the Month: Loafers
- I Stubbed My Piggy Toe!
- Yard Clean-up Tough On Feet
- September (9)
- My Ankle Hurts. Could I Have Fractured It?
- Hottest Shoes For Fall 2012
- Vince Neil Continues Tour With Broken Foot
- Clicking and Clacking In the Ankle: Talar Dome Lesion
- DWTS Gilles Marini Has Weird Foot Injury
- Peroneal Tendon Injuries
- Pain In My Big Toe Joint
- I Have A Knot In My Foot! Plantar Fibroma
- Gout Attacking Big Toe!
Foot Deformities in CT
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Diabetes and Your Feet in CT
Heel Pain In CT