A stubbed toe is not usually a serious injury, but it can be painful one. It occurs when one of the toes of the foot is jammed into a solid object, thereby causing a strain or sprain on the tissues in that toe. Toes generally have high concentrations of nerve endings, which means the pain will be quite significant. It is best to treat the affected area with the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Minor occurrences of a stubbed toe will heal quickly, usually lasting no more than a few days.
Each joint in the foot is connected by tissues called ligaments. Muscles can also be concentrated near joints, and cartilage is present between each set of bones. Any of these tissues can be damaged when a stubbed toe occurs, though the level of damage is usually fairly minor. If the toe is jammed hard enough, more serious injuries, such as a fracture may occur. This is different than a stubbed toe because a fracture means the bone within the toe has cracked. This will be more painful and that pain will last a much longer time. Most fractures will heal on their own given enough time and rest, though more serious fractures may need to be addressed by a doctor.
It is important to immobilize the toe should a painful stubbed toe occur. When the toe is stubbed and ligaments or muscles are sprained or strained, excess movement can worsen the injury and prevent adequate healing. Immobilizing the toe with a splint will prevent movement and allow the tissues to heal on their own; this splinting is usually done by using medical tape to secure one toe to the digit next to it. If this is not possible, special splints may be available to immobilize just that one toe.
The RICE treatment promotes faster healing as well. Resting the injury allows tissues to repair themselves, and icing the affected area can dull the pain and help reduce painful swelling. Compression can also help reduce swelling and inflammation, and it can even help stimulate blood flow to the affected area, which will in turn promote faster healing. Elevation, too, helps reduce swelling and pain. The RICE treatment is appropriate first aid for the injury; over the course of the next few days or weeks, it will be important to continue to rest the affected area. Icing can be continued periodically if swelling and pain persist.