How can I tell if there's still glass in my foot?
August 29, 2013 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I stepped on a little shard of glass- it's basically like if you put a needle in there and pulled it out somewhat unevenly. It's a little cut, no bigger than a speck at the end of your fingernail. But it hurts to step on it. I basically assumed this morning that it was gone- it welled up with blood a small amount, I rubbed, problem solved.... or so it seems. This whole day it has been hurting and hurting. So... should I dig?

There's a tiny white swollen area now (like a very small blister). If I pull the sides apart, I can see there is a small cut still there. But I can't for the life of me see any glass. I soaked it in hot water. I put on iodine. I don't see a foreign object.

What do I do? Other than the obvious (soak, needle, tweezers), is there any way to get it out? Should I wait?
posted by kettleoffish to Health & Fitness (25 answers total)
If it's really the size of a speck, there probably is nothing in there.

Puncture wounds in your foot are highly susceptible to infection.

I would strongly recommend you NOT further damage your foot.

If you want to set your mind to rest for sure, go get a foot x-ray and if there's any glass piece, it'll show up. Not at the ER. It's not an emergency. IANYD/this is not medical advice.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:28 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

My dad's theory on splinters would apply here: if you poke it and it hurts, there's still something in there. If you poke it and it doesn't give you a particularly extra sting, it's probably all out.
posted by colin_l at 4:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you have an Urgent Care place you can go to, or any way to drop in to your doctor's office (or a doctor's office or clinic)? This isn't an ER situation, but it sounds as if you want to get that looked at. There might be a tiny, but sharp, little shard still in your foot that you can't really see with the naked eye; if so a doctor can find and remove it. Worst that can happen is that there is nothing there and you get bandaged and sent on your way.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:34 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened to me, and the glass splinter was still in there. I won't tell you what you should do, because I'm not a doctor and I can't see what damage is done there already, but what worked for me was pressing below the entry wound, not at its sides.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:44 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would dig. I would open the blister like thing and try to drain it. Afterwards, I would clean it out with alcohol and then put a band aid over it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:45 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have access to an Urgent Care clinic, this is exactly the kind of thing they handle.
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You definitely want to see someone about this. My mom stepped on a needle once and a piece broke off in her foot (she thought she got the whole thing out at the time) and eventually she needed surgery to remove it. Make sure you get it out now before it gets embedded.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Urgent care would not be a bad idea. However, the exact same thing happened to me a few months ago. I called my dad, a doctor, who suggested that I cover it for 24 hours, then pinch on both sides (with your thumb and index finger, one on each side) around the wound. Your body will force it to the surface during those 24 hours since it's a foreign object, and then with the pinch it will pop right out. If it appears like it may be infected, though, you don't want to wait.
posted by btkuhn at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this were my foot I would apply magnesium sulphate ointmemt overnight under a light dressing.
posted by BenPens at 5:09 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would not do anything, at least not in the immediate future. I'd wait to see if it would work its own way out.

You know those bandages in the foot care aisle that are shaped like tiny doughnuts? I have no idea what their actual purpose is, but get one of those and position it so that the hole is over your puncture wound. This will take direct pressure off the wound itself so it doesn't hurt, and allow anything that might be in there to work its way out on its own, or at least close enough to come out with some non-invasive coaxing. You'll be able to tell after about a day whether or not you've got a problem.

All of my dealings with splinters are on a wait-and-see basis after my experience with pencil lead. Many years ago, when I was probably about 12, my asshole brother stabbed me in the thigh/butt area with a mechanical pencil and some lead broke off. In my butt. We didn't do anything about it because if we told our parents we were fighting we would have gotten into trouble. Anyway, YEARS go by, and I notice (I am 25 at this point) that I've got this weird pimply thing on my thigh/butt area. Doesn't go away, but isn't like a regular zit, you know? A few days go by, and I'm about to go to the doctor to get it looked at, and suddenly it scabs over. I give it a gentle prodding, and what comes out but a quarter inch of pencil lead covered in body tissue. Gross. Fascinating. Gross.

My point here is that Life Will Find a Way. Your body doesn't want that glass there any more than you do, so let your body do the work. Please don't go digging on your toe, that will only go poorly.

posted by phunniemee at 5:13 PM on August 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

A sliver of glass will not necessarily "work its way out" or be expelled "automatically". It might happen, it might not.

I still have a piece of pencil lead (not actually Pb, of course) in the palm my hand that was embedded when I was in Grade 3. In my case it's harmless.
posted by wutangclan at 5:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation with uncertainty if there was anything still there, after two days and still hurting to step on foot, I digged with tweezers. I used a led flashlight to catch reflections of anything glasslike. Found it after 15 minutes of poking and everything was fine when the piece got out.
posted by Free word order! at 5:45 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you current on your tetnus vaccine? The doctor will want to do that if you don't know.
posted by Jahaza at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

bandages in the foot care aisle that are shaped like tiny doughnuts

they are for bunions you young whippersnapper
posted by elizardbits at 5:58 PM on August 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's still in there. Get out in the sun and you might be able to see it. Use a specialised splinter tool and try to get it out. That's what I would do (and did a couple of years ago when the exact same thing happened to me).
posted by Youremyworld at 6:01 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've gotten dozens of pieces of glass in my feet over the years, and I've never had it hurt the next day unless there was a shard remaining in the wound.

An Exacto knife with a new pointed blade would be much sharper and easier to work with than a needle.

Shine the strongest light you can muster onto the wound; a glint is a reliable guide to the tiniest pieces, in my experience.

I had a little cube of glass about 1/4" on a side embedded in my knee for more than five years-- the legacy of a cleanup of the shattering of one of the 4' X 6' sheets of tempered glass I had covering the floor of one of the rooms in my house-- and when it popped out one day, I noticed that it was much more rounded than the other pieces had been and very cloudy, and I remembered reading that inhaled asbestos fibers are so much more carcinogenic than comparable glass fibers mainly because the glass fibers tend to be completely absorbed over ~10 years, whereas the asbestos lasts forever.

So if you do end up leaving a tiny bit in there, don't sweat it.
posted by jamjam at 6:04 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This tip on splinter removal may help. Spoiler: the trick is epsom salt.
posted by fikri at 7:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would not do anything

this is advice for a reliable dependable health outcome.

but it isn't exciting.

If your criteria is 'what would be the most fun? the most satisfying? what does the animal within me hunger for'

then you need an exacto knife, or at least swiss army pocket knife,
if you insist on sterilising it,
hold the blade in the flames.

Once you start digging, there's going to be so much blood you wont be able to see much, so you'll have to go by feel.

You'll know when you've found the glass shard, because the knife will click across the glass.

Of course that will just be the top of the glass, and you need to dig under the glass to get it out.

It's always so much deeper in than you expect.

jamjam is right you need blinding light, not so much for any practical reason, but so you can marvel at the shiny jewel you have brought to the surface.

I've got a feeling this is the answer you were really hoping for :)
there is one question no-one has addressed yet, digging techniques: tunnelling or open cut mining?
posted by compound eye at 1:26 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could always go on a rollercoaster.

A relative of mine once dropped a glass in their kitchen, and got some of it in their foot. They went to the Doctor, who who duly got (what appeared to be) all of it out. A couple of years later, they were are an amusement park and went on the rollercoaster. When they got off, their foot was bleeding. Another trip to the doctor later, it seems that they still had a shard embedded in their foot and the focrce of being spun round on the rollercoaster dislodged it.
posted by Solomon at 2:41 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had this happen to me recently. I went to an urgent care to get the last sliver of glass cut out of my foot. It was a very tiny sliver causing the pain and swelling in my case.
The doctor deepened/widened the cut, got a very bright light and pulled it out with pointy tweezers. I didn't want to cut open my own foot, so urgent care made sense.
Also, the self-extracting position was really awkward, and two hands were needed to get that sucker out.
posted by natasha_k at 5:37 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I broke a glass in my apartment a few weeks ago, and got not one but two tiny glass slivers in the sole of my foot over the following days (apparently, I'm not great at sweeping). I definitely agree that if it's still hurting, you still have glass in your foot.

I was lucky in that I was able to get the glass out both times via this method: I soaked my feet (ie, did this after a shower when my soles were soft) and then sat/laid down with my feet up for about 20 minutes (so the glass wasn't pushed in). Then I was able to feel the piece of glass sticking out by lightly running my fingertips over the sore area (I couldn't see either piece). Once I found it, I pulled it out, once with a pair of tweezers and once with my fingers.

So you may want to give that a shot, but if it doesn't work, go to the doctor. You don't want to mess around with glass in your foot - it's hard for it to work its way out, because your weight is always pushing it back in, and injuries to the soles of your feet can cause lots of problems.
posted by lunasol at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would reiterate - there are important things in your foot, ligaments, nerves, tendons, blood vessels. Wounds to the foot are already at high risk for infection without potentially introducing more bacteria into them.

Please do not go digging.

Any of the other non-invasive/conservative ideas above are fine to try.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:41 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

When this happened to me recently, I used a magnifying lamp like this to be able to see the glass and pull it out with tweezers.* I couldn't see it with my naked eyes, but it was there. And I agree that if you're still having pain, you still have glass in there. I didn't dig; I pushed from underneath. It hurt, I had to bend into an awkward position, and it took a long time. But without the magnifier I would have had to go to a doctor.

*I already had the lamp, I didn't buy it special for this. But you can buy them much cheaper than the one I linked to, and after this experience, I would buy one if I didn't have one, plus they are also incredibly useful for a lot of other things.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:54 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for it's still in there. A visit to urgent care is probably in order. Mine took over 15 YEARS to work its way out of my foot, so don't count on your body taking care of it itself.
posted by ravioli at 9:35 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

An update on this. Walked around for a couple of weeks, feeling like something was in there-- used those donut things, they were very useful (it's also possible to make SQUARE ones out of foamy bandage). Finally went to my doctor who couldn't see anything either. Finally, finally, tried to see if I could dislodge something with a needle and tweezers. Still nothing. But at that point there was a pretty strong "button" feeling when I pressed on it, like something was in there and it was painful to walk on.

Then, just now, took a shower and tried scraping off the skin all around it. It seemed to work. It kind of highlighted a hard, thin line under the skin. And I was like "this is definitely coming out now." It almost looked like there was a thin chip of china under the skin.

That is the problem with the really thin, almost needle-shaped pieces of glass... most of it is under the skin and consequently it is harder to push strategically and get it out (or even see it!). But after some time, I could see it... it's like the body WANTS it out. The hole reopened pretty easily and just pushing around the edges made it come out! It was like a little thin chip. So anyhow, problem solved.
posted by kettleoffish at 10:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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