The most common early sign of a toe stress fracture is mild pain and weakness in the affected appendage. It can also be painful to press on the actual site of the fracture, though there is not radiating pain. There may not be a visible sign of the fracture, though some bruising or swelling is possible. It may be difficult to detect a toe stress fracture, as its symptoms are similar to those of other strains and sprains in that area of the body. If it is not treated, the pain will increase and persist and may even become severe.
How quickly the pain of a toe stress fracture will escalate depends on the severity of the injury and how much the patient is moving. A sedentary individual may take some time to realize that the pain is a fracture. In these instances, the most obvious symptom is that the pain will endure, perhaps lessening with rest, but never completely going away. Those who are physically active usually notice a faster and sharper increase in pain and are more likely to recognize this as a symptom that requires medical attention.
The symptoms of a toe fracture can be difficult to isolate because they are similar to several other problems. At first, the fracture can feel like a pulled muscle, a strain, or sprain. The primary distinction between these conditions and a fracture is that they will not eventually disable an individual the way a hairline split in the bone will. An advanced toe fracture will eventually become too painful to bear any weight at all.
Toe stress fracture symptoms can be difficult to detect and, due to the hairline nature of the injury, they may not be able to be confirmed in an x-ray. Sometimes the split is so small that it will not show up until the healing process is well under way. In these cases, an MRI or CAT scan can confirm whether or not the symptoms are from a fracture.
There are several misconceptions about toe stress fractures that can lead to a patient missing the signs. One of the most common is the belief that an individual with a fracture cannot move the affected toe, though nerves and muscles in that area can actually still allow movement. It is also possible to walk on a fracture, at least in the early stages of the injury. Another common misconception is that there must be visible external evidence of the fracture, such as bruising or swelling in the area. Though some sort of visible sign is possible, it does not always appear.