It’s possible that no injury is more closely associated with a single, specific sport than turf toe is with football. You might not know what it is, exactly, but you probably know that it can keep your team’s top running back or wide receiver out of the lineup for weeks at a time.
However, while there’s some truth to the name—turf toe really is more common for athletes who play on artificial turf—you definitely don’t have to be a football player (or even play sports) to get it.
If you feel any aching, pain, or tenderness around the joint at the base of the big toe and it’s causing you to limit your activities, the best course of action is to call us right away! Turf toe and other toe injuries should be evaluated and treated promptly to keep them from getting worse or keep you from enjoying your lifestyle!
What Is Turf Toe?
Turf toe is, simply, a sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe. (The more scientific name is metatarsophalangeal joint sprain, or MTP sprain.) Like any other sprain, it involves stretching or tearing in the ligaments that hold the joint in place and connect bones to other bones.
Common symptoms of turf toe include:
- A “popping” noise at the moment of injury
- Stiffness and inability to move the toe
- Instability in the toe joint (if the ligaments have been severely torn)
How Did I Get It?
Turf toe is typically caused by hyperextension of the toe, which damages the “capsule” of ligaments surrounding the joint.
This could happen as the result of overuse. For example, if you’re a runner, you may be constantly aggravating these ligaments when you push up with your big toe, causing them to slowly deteriorate and eventually break down.
However, turf toe is more likely to be the result of a single traumatic accident. If you play sports with frequent starts and stops or direction changes—especially contact sports—you might find yourself in a situation where your toe stays planted or gets caught on a surface while the rest of your body moves in a different direction. If the toe is severely hyperextended, it can cause instant and severe pain.
In addition to football and other “turf sports,” turf toe is also common for runners, gymnasts, dancers, and those who play court sports.
Does Turf Toe Need Treatment?
Yes, absolutely. Many people think because it’s “just” a toe injury that nothing can be done, or treatment isn’t worth pursuing. But this is far from the truth!
While some cases of turf toe can ultimately be managed at home, it’s always best to get a proper evaluation and treatment guidelines from a professional. Without proper treatment, severe (and potentially even milder) cases can easily develop into more complex problems.
In order to properly diagnose this condition, many diagnostic procedures can be used in addition to a physical examination. X-rays, bone scans, CT scans, and MRI are all useful in determining foot problem causes and the extent to which the feet and ankles have been damaged.
What Are the Treatment Options?
The most common conservative treatment method for turf toe is RICE therapy, especially if the injury is mild. By following a regimen of rest, icing, compression, and elevation, many patients are able to return to normal activity in 2-3 weeks.
This method, along with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, allows the body time to heal. We may also recommend the use of MLS laser therapy to help relieve pain faster and accelerate the natural healing process—it’s a great option for workers, athletes, and other active folks who want to make the fastest possible recovery.
Athletic tape is also often used to immobilize and relieve pressure from the injured joint. Once healing is nearly complete, many individuals find that physical therapy is necessary to regain strength and flexibility of the big toe joint.
If the toe has been severely sprained and conservative treatments are not effective, surgical repair may be considered. However, this is rarely required, and usually only arises if there is severe tearing in the ligaments, as well as abnormalities in the foot bones.
Can I Prevent Turf Toe?
Although it’s impossible to guarantee you’ll never get turf toe again, several strategies can greatly reduce your risk. They include:
- Wearing quality, sport-specific shoes. Those who are prone to turf toe can benefit from a stiffer-than-average sole.
- Wearing an appropriate set of arch supports or custom orthotics. Dr. Timson can analyze your gait and foot shape to determine whether you need these—and if so, which ones would best accommodate your lifestyle.
- Using athletic tape around the toe when you play.
- Avoiding training mistakes, such as too much high-impact exercise too many days in a row. Incorporating rest days into your routine and cross-training in low-impact activities can reduce your risk.
For more details about these strategies, please read this blog post.
Get the Relief You Need for Your Toe Injury
Dr. Trent Timson has extensive experience helping athletes both prevent and treat all kinds of sports injuries, including turf toe. He can help you, too!
To schedule an appointment, call us at (620) 241-3313. You can also request an appointment online using the button at the bottom of this page. Let’s get you back on your feet and moving at full speed again!