There are five metatarsals in the foot. The first metatarsal is the most important and fractures of the first metatarsal usually require surgery. Fractures of the middle metatarsals (the second, third and fourth) do not require surgery unless there are significant displacements of the bone.
Each metatarsal is divided anatomically into different segments (the head and neck, the shaft, and the base). The treatment of these fractures depends on where the metatarsal bone is fractured.
Injuries to the metatarsals are sustained in many different ways ranging from minor twisting to falls and injuries sustained when heavy objects fall on the foot and literally crush the metatarsals.
Fractures of the fifth metatarsal are quite varied, and the treatment is determined according to the specific location of the fracture in this bone. The treatment of the metatarsals varies depending on the injury. Some patients simply wear a very stiff-soled shoe or a special type of rigid heeling shoe or a short leg walking cast. Surgery is reserved for the more serious of these fractures. These are usually certain types of fractures of the first and fifth metatarsal.
Fractures of the fifth metatarsal are unique in that they commonly occur associated with sporting activities. There is one type of fracture in particular, called the Jones fracture, which is a difficult fracture to get to heal. Because of problems with blood supply to the bone where the fracture occurs, these fractures are difficult to heal and often surgery is required.
If surgery is not performed, then a boot or cast is used. It can take eight to ten weeks for this fracture to heal and it is not always predictable whether or not full healing will occur. If a cast or boot is used, no walking on the foot is permitted for about 6 weeks. The results of bone healing are unpredictable. Studies have shown about 70% heal with cast treatment.
On the other hand, surgery for the Jones fracture has about a 95% success rate. Therefore, surgery is preferable for most Jones fractures. In this treatment, a tiny puncture is made in the skin on the outside of the foot and a screw is inserted. An x-ray monitor is used to help position the screw. The screw helps speed up the healing process. Healing occurs quite rapidly and walking on the foot (with a removable boot) is permitted within a few days after surgery. Typically, bike exercise can be commenced at about four weeks. Patients may return to running approximately six weeks after this type of surgery.