Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Broken foot (fractured metatarsal)

Waewae tāwhatiwhati

Foot anatomy, showing your metatarsals and your phalanges. Metatarsals are the long bones in your foot, phalanges are the bones in your toesYour metatarsal bones are the long, straight bones in the middle of your foot. If your metatarsals are fractured, it means they're broken.

Metatarsal bones often break when a heavy object falls on your foot. The outside bone can also break because of a twisting injury at the ankle or by kicking a heavy object.

Some people, such as long-distance runners can develop stress fractures in these bones, caused by repeated force on their feet.

Diagnosing broken metatarsals

Your doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist will diagnose your injury by listening to your explanation of what happened, examining your ankle and looking at an X-ray of your ankle. You might need another scan, such as a CT or MRI scan if the X-rays aren't clear.

Treating broken metatarsals

A broken metatarsal can be treated in different ways.

If your bone is broken in a good position but is stable, you may be put into a plaster cast or a moonboot to support your foot and stop the broken bone from moving while it heals.

You may have a follow-up appointment at the Orthopaedics Outpatient Clinic one to two weeks after your injury to check how well you're healing. This may include an X-ray. Some GPs will be able to look after you without the need to see a specialist.

If the metatarsal on the outside of your foot has a small break (called an avulsion fracture), it may be treated with a Tubigrip bandage and crutches to help you walk.

You might need an operation to move the bones into the right position and fix them in place. This will happen if the broken bones aren't in a good position or are unstable, or if you've also dislocated the joint of your bone. This may involve using a metal plate, screws or wires. Your orthopaedic surgeon will talk with you about this before any surgery. Ask them questions if you want more information.

Before and after the surgery, you may have a plaster cast or backslab (this is a half cast on the back of your leg) to support your leg and foot and stop the broken bones from moving.

Self-care for broken metatarsals

If you have a plaster cast, you'll need to take care of it correctly. See Care of your cast.

Your doctor will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg.

Elevate your leg when you're resting to help reduce any swelling. You may feel some numbness or tingling in your leg or foot, but this will eventually get better.

You should try to get moving as soon as possible. This helps to prevent problems that can happen with long periods of bed rest. These can include deep vein thrombosis, infections and muscle weakness.

If you're given a piece of Tubigrip (tubular bandage) to wear after your cast is removed, you should wear it like a sock from knee to toes, with no wrinkles. Only wear it in the daytime. Do not wear it in bed at night.

If your skin is excessively dry when your cast is removed, soak your leg in warm soapy water and dry it well, then use some hand cream.

Getting help with broken metatarsals

If you've been admitted to hospital, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist may assess what help you'll need at home and arrange it for you. Your physiotherapist will teach you how to walk with a walking frame or crutches without putting too much weight on your leg.

If you have not been admitted to hospital or have left hospital and need help with a walking frame or crutches, talk to your GP.

ACC may be able to provide help while you aren't fit for work, such as home help or taxis to appointment as well as work compensation payments.

To help you regain your normal movement and strength, a physiotherapist will advise you on exercises you should do and will help you return to your normal activities and sports. Your treatment may include active range of motion, strengthening and balance exercises as well as mobilisations.

A podiatrist may be able to provide ACC-funded orthotics to help stabilise your foot and ankle during your recovery and can discuss the best footwear choices to help your rehabilitation.

Written by director of nursing, Orthopaedic Services, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.

See also:

Broken bones first aid

Living with an injury


Page reference: 148648

Review key: HIAAF-225274