If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a metatarsal fracture, you may be worried at the thought of losing your independence.
An injured foot can have a large effect on everyday life. Your foot is involved whether you’re walking, running, or even just standing. A painful foot can be extremely frustrating and limit your activity.
So when can you expect to get back to normal life? How long does it take for a metatarsal fracture to heal?
The answer is… It depends. Metatarsal fractures are tricky, as there are multiple kinds. But, here’s what you can expect if you treat them properly and take care with your recovery.
What Is a Metatarsal Fracture?
Before we talk about how long it takes to heal, let’s define a metatarsal fracture. It’s a crack or break in one of the bones leading from the ankle to the toes.
Metatarsal fractures can be stress fractures—caused by overuse, most common in the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals—or may occur as a result of trauma to the foot—a bump, kick, fall, or blunt force trauma, most common in the 5th metatarsal.
Causes and Risk Factors
Stress fractures are most commonly caused by overuse.
Often, this is something as simple as a sudden increase in either the frequency or the intensity of your exercise. This increase places excess strain on the metatarsals and causes damage.
Running for long distances with shoes that don’t provide adequate cushioning from shock can also lead to the development of stress fractures.
Those who suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis or arthritis may be at a higher risk of developing a stress fracture in the metatarsals.
Trauma such as stubbing your toe, dropping a heavy object onto your foot, falling, or being in an accident in which blunt force is applied to the foot may also result in a metatarsal fracture.
5th metatarsal fractures are often caused by a sudden inward twist of the ankle. This may be caused by walking on uneven ground or wearing shoes without enough support.
People with high arches are at a higher risk of developing a 5th metatarsal fracture, particularly if they don’t wear shoes with enough support.
Metatarsal Fracture Symptoms
The first symptom of a metatarsal fracture is pain in the foot that increases when you bear weight on that foot. Resting the foot should reduce the pain; however, the area of the fracture will be tender to the touch.
You may also notice bruising, swelling, and redness in the area of the pain. In the case of a bad break in which the bone is displaced, you may notice that the foot is somewhat misshapen or there’s a lump.
How Long Does a Metatarsal Fracture Take To Heal?
A metatarsal fracture can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to heal. This may seem like a very wide window, but it depends on the severity of the fracture and how well it’s treated.
If you begin to exercise or place pressure on the foot before it’s healed, the bone may not be fused together yet. This can cause worse damage and leave you out of action for even longer.
You should take your doctor’s advice when it comes to recovering from a metatarsal fracture. The average person takes 8 to 12 weeks to heal, but it’s different for everybody.
If you had to have surgery on your foot for a displaced fracture, it’s likely to take longer to heal than a simple crack in the bone.
You will need to rest your foot properly during healing. Your doctor will recommend a variety of treatment options to try and help your foot heal as fast as possible, but you should expect to be off your feet for at least 8 weeks.
When Can I Return to Activity After a Metatarsal Fracture?
You should consult with your doctor about when you can return to activity after a metatarsal fracture. The general consensus is that you can continue with an activity when you can do it without pain in your foot.
While you may not be able to return to your full level of activity immediately, you can begin with light activity while your foot is still healing.
For example, you may not be able to go for a run after a metatarsal fracture, but you can go for a walk or swim as long as you have no pain.
You should start light and gradually increase your activity until you’re at the same level you were before your fracture. It will take time, but moving too quickly can cause more damage to your metatarsal.
If you have pain or swelling during or after your exercise, you should treat your foot with the RICE principle and rest it for a few days before trying again at a lighter intensity.
Home Recovery Tips for a Metatarsal Fracture
In addition to staying off of your foot for the required number of weeks until it heals, here are our top tips for helping a metatarsal fracture heal faster.
Immobilizing your affected foot with a walking boot or post-op boot can help to restrict unnecessary movement that could aggravate the foot.
A boot is stiff enough to prevent the bones or bone fragments from moving, which offers a higher chance of healing safely.
Keep Weight Off Foot
Whether you’re wearing a walking boot or not, using crutches or an alternative to keep weight off of your foot will help to reduce pressure on the tissues while they’re still healing. This will help them heal faster.
Elevating your foot helps to reduce swelling by allowing the fluid accumulating in the foot to drain away.
You should elevate your foot above the level of your heart, but it will still be effective even if you keep it at hip level. For example, placing your foot on a chair in front of you while you’re sitting.
You can apply ice to your injured foot 3 to 4 times a day for 10 to 20 minutes to alleviate pain and reduce swelling. You can use an ice pack wrapped in a cloth or an ice wrap, this will offer some compression benefits as well.
Bandaging your foot will help to provide light compression, which can increase blood flow in the injured area for faster healing. It also helps to provide some support to the healing bones and keep them in place as the bones fuse together.
Make sure to bandage it tightly enough to provide support and compression but not so tightly that it cuts off circulation. If you feel pins and needles, or tingling, it’s too tight.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or painkillers—ibuprofen or paracetamol—may be used to help manage the pain. They should be used minimally and together with other treatment measures.
Your doctor may recommend you see a physical therapist as part of the healing process. The physical therapist will be able to help you stretch and strengthen your foot, and will help you regain the range of motion you had before your fracture.
Exercises for Faster Recovery
You should do this exercise seated in a chair or on a bed, where you can lift both feet off the floor at the same time.
Lift your left foot while your right foot remains on the ground. Point it up and down, making sure that it doesn’t move out of a comfortable range of motion.
Then, turn your foot in a circle in a clockwise direction. Do 10 circles and then switch to a counter-clockwise direction. Repeat this on the right foot.
Once you have done both feet, place your heels together. Lift both feet off of the ground while keeping your heels together, and move your toes apart. Do this 10 times.
Calf Wall Stretch
Stand in front of a wall at about arm’s length. Place your hands on the wall in front of you at a comfortable height.
Step backward with your affected foot—about one step behind your unaffected foot.
Make sure your back heel is flat on the floor. Keep your back leg straight and bend your front knee slightly bringing your chest forward toward the wall as you bend your knee.
When you feel a stretch in the calf muscle of your back leg, hold the stretch in that position for 20 to 30 seconds.
You can switch legs if you wish, but pay careful attention to how your healing metatarsal feels when it’s in the front position. If you have any pain, stop immediately.
Resisted Ankle Inversion With a Band
Begin this exercise by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Wrap a resistance band lightly around your injured foot, knotting it on the outside of your foot. Make sure it’s not placing pressure on the painful part of your foot.
Then, cross your injured foot over on top of your other foot. Wrap the extra length of the resistance band underneath and around the inside—arch—of your unaffected foot.
Press your injured foot to the side, pulling on the resistance band and then relax your foot. Repeat this 8 to 10 times for 3 to 5 sets.
Do this exercise sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor. Place a towel flat on the floor in front of you. Make sure it is within reach of your feet.
Place your toes on the edge of the towel and scrunch the towel with your toes while your heels are still on the floor.
Then, using your toes, push the towel back into place. Repeat this 8 to 10 times, for 3 to 5 sets in total.
Towel Inversion and Eversion
Do this exercise sitting in a chair, on a wooden or tiled floor. Place a towel flat on the floor and place your feet on the towel.
Swivel your feet side to side, sliding the towel on the floor as you do.
Slide your toes of both feet to one side first and follow with your heels. Then do the same in the opposite direction.
Repeat this 8 to 10 times for 3 to 5 sets in total.