How Do I Know If My Foot Injury Is Serious?

how do i know if my foot injury is serious

The feet are extraordinarily complex and important parts of the body. Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons that work together to allow you to move, balance, walk, run, and perform other everyday activities. 

When you suffer a foot injury, it’s important to understand your symptoms so you can determine whether your injury is something that can heal on its own or if you should instead seek medical care.

What are the Signs of a Serious Foot Injury?

Seek medical treatment immediately if you experience:

  1. Severe pain or swelling
  2. An inability to walk or bear any weight on the foot
  3. Instability or feeling unsure/unsteady when walking
  4. Hearing a popping or tearing sound at the time of injury
  5. An open cut or wound that is oozing pus or that will not stop bleeding after applying compression
  6. Signs of infection such as redness, warmth, and tenderness in the area, or a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, your injury could be serious. It’s best to seek immediate treatment. 

Common Foot Injuries and Their Symptoms

Some injuries are more likely than others. Here are a few of the most common foot injuries, and how to identify them. 

Breaks and Fractures 

Traumatic injuries to the foot and ankle can result in fractures or breaks to the bones of the foot and/or ankle. Breaks are accompanied by symptoms such as throbbing pain, bruising, inflammation, tenderness, a visible deformity of the bone, difficulty or inability to walk or bear weight. If you suspect you’ve experienced a fracture or break, seek medical attention right away.

A broken toe is often accompanied by symptoms such as bleeding, bruising, numbness, tenderness, swelling, stiffness, burning or tingling, and decreased mobility.

Foot and Ankle Sprains

Sprains occur when a ligament stretches or tears, which causes symptoms such as swelling and pain in the area. With ankle sprains, you might be unable to bear weight on the foot. A sprained toe is often accompanied by symptoms such as bruising, tenderness, swelling, throbbing, stiffness, and decreased mobility. 

Fallen arch

When the posterior tibial tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of the foot, gets injured or worn, the arch of the foot can slowly lower. This results in the bottom of the foot becoming flat, meaning the entire sole of the foot touches the floor when standing. For many, extreme discomfort in the heel and arch area accompany fallen arches. Left untreated, this condition could also lead to further degeneration or arthritis of the joints.

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fascia that connects your toes to your heel on the bottom of your foot. People with this issue often report pain in the bottom of their heel when they first stand up in the morning. The pain associated with this condition can be severe and chronic. 


A bunion is a bump of bone and tissue that forms at the base of your big toe when the joint connecting the big toe to the foot shifts. Bunions are often caused by narrow-toed and/or high-heeled shoes. Studies have also shown that genetics play a large role in the development of bunions or hallux valgus.


A hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes where the toe is bent at the middle joint. While in beginning stages, changing your shoes and stretching/strengthening the feet can repair the issue, if left untreated, hammertoe can become fixed and require surgery.

Achilles tendonitis 

Injuries to the achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel, can result in stiffness, pain, and swelling near the heel in the back of the leg. Tendonitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed, irritated, and swollen. 

Getting Treatment for Serious Foot Injuries

Pay close attention to your symptoms to determine when you should seek medical treatment. If you believe your foot injury might be serious, it’s better to err on the side of caution and talk to a doctor or foot specialist as soon as possible. Since our feet are responsible for so much of our mobility, you don’t want to risk worsening an injury by delaying care.

When Should You Seek Professional Treatment for a Foot Injury?

Visit your doctor or an urgent care clinic if you experience any of the serious symptoms mentioned above, including severe pain/swelling, an inability to walk, an open cut or wound that is oozing pus or bleeding after compression, or signs of infection. 

In addition, you should also seek treatment if milder symptoms do not improve after at-home treatment such as rest, ice, and compression. While you can visit your general practitioner for foot pain, if symptoms persist, you may choose to visit a specialist such as a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist

Schedule an appointment if:

  • Swelling in your foot does not reduce after 2-5 days 
  • You are still experiencing pain 2-3 weeks after your injury
  • You are experiencing burning, tingling, or numbing sensations in the foot, especially involving the bottom of the foot
  • You notice that your gait (the way you walk) is being seriously affected, especially after 1-2 days of rest

What are the Treatment Options for Serious Foot Injuries?

Some serious foot injuries can require surgical intervention if other treatment options fail. Surgery is often recommended for foot injuries including:

  • Bunions
  • Hammertoe
  • Ankle arthritis
  • Tendon tears
  • Fracture repair

For foot and ankle tendon injuries, treatment options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Rest and modifying activities until improved function is achieved 
  • Steroid injection
  • Bracing
  • Custom orthotics (shoe inserts)
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery, if other options fail

For some foot injuries such as a broken toe or an ankle sprain, the best treatment option is anti-inflammatory medications combined with the RICE method – rest, ice, compress, and elevate. 

Should You Treat a Foot Injury at Home?

Some foot injuries are safe to treat at home, but take care to visit a medical professional if you begin to experience the serious symptoms mentioned above, or if home treatment fails to improve your pain and/or swelling after several days.

For less serious injuries like a stubbed toe, a small cut, or a sprained ankle, you will usually see improvement in a few days without the intervention of a medical professional. If pain persists or you don’t see improvement after several days, it’s time to make an appointment to find out if there is a more serious issue causing your symptoms to persist.

If you’re experiencing mild to moderate pain and soreness after exercising, your symptoms might be a normal result of increasing your activity duration or intensity. You can treat soreness from exercise at home with ice and rest. To avoid or minimize soreness, be sure to wear the correct shoes and stretch your legs and feet regularly. Tight calves often contribute to foot pain in runners and other athletes, so be sure to do dynamic stretches for the legs before exercise and static stretches that target the calves, hamstrings, and quads after each session.

What are the Risks of Not Getting Treatment for a Serious Foot Injury?

While a sprain can often heal on its own, other foot injuries require medical intervention. If you delay care for a fracture or break, for instance, you risk making the injury worse, meaning it will take longer to heal or may not heal properly. 

If you are uncertain of the seriousness of your foot injury, it’s better to be safe than sorry – schedule an appointment with a doctor and get the situation checked out.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Serious Foot Injury?

Depending on your injury and the treatment required, your foot could take 6-8 weeks to heal. If surgery is required, full functionality may take longer to regain. Talk with your doctor to discuss the details of your specific situation and get a better sense of your recovery timeline. 

On the other hand, most minor foot injuries will heal within a week, while moderate injuries might take 2-4 weeks to heal. 

Preventing Serious Foot Injuries

While it’s impossible to prevent aging and the accompanying wear and tear on our bodies, there are some simple steps you can take to help prevent serious foot injuries:

  • Wear shoes with a low-heel drop and a wide toe box to prevent many issues with the feet
  • Warm up with dynamic stretches and/or a short walk before athletic activities
  • Stretch (especially your calf muscles) after athletic activities
  • Condition your muscles with strength training activities
  • Replace your athletic shoes when you notice that the tread has worn off
  • If you are training a lot in one sport, be sure to add some cross training activities to your routine to avoid injuries due to overuse and repetition
  • Take care in icy conditions or on uneven surfaces to avoid falls
  • Listen to your body – if you notice pain, rest and see how your body responds before returning to your athletic activities

Trust a Doctor at Alexander Orthopaedics With Your Foot Injury

If you’re concerned you might be suffering from a serious foot injury, don’t risk worsening your condition by delaying medical care. Talk to the experts at Alexander Orthopaedics to start your healing journey today.