Turf Toe – Sprain of the Big Toe

Turf toe is one of those sports injuries that is so closely associated with a specific situation that it’s right there in the common name. Football? Soccer? If you play on turf, then it could probably happen, right?

Yet while there is some truth to the name – turf toe really is more common with athletes who play on artificial turf – you don’t have to play football (or even be an athlete) to suffer from this painful condition.

Turf toe is a type of injury that should always be evaluated and treated promptly. The sooner it can be properly addressed, the lower the risk that it will get worse or keep you from doing the activities you love.

turf toe

What is Turf Toe?

“Turf toe” might sound a bit mysterious, but it is simply a sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe (medically known as the metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTP). Like any other sprain, the ligaments that hold the bones of the joint in place have been stretched or torn by an intense force.

Common symptoms of turf toe include:

  • Pain, often intense at the moment of injury
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • A “popping sound at the time of injury
  • Stiffness and inability to move the toe
  • Instability in the toe joint (if the ligaments have been severely torn)

Not all symptoms need to be present for a turf toe diagnosis.

What Causes Turf Toe?

Turf toe is typically caused by hyperextension of the big toe, in which it is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This can damage the “capsule” of ligaments surrounding the big toe joint.

Hyperextension can sometimes happen because of overuse. For example, a runner might constantly aggravate the ligaments when pushing up with their big toe in their running cycle. The ligaments can gradually deteriorate and break down.

It is more common, however, that hyperextension happens during a single traumatic incident. Sports with frequent starts, stops, or direction changes – especially with contact involved – can easily create situations where the toe gets planted firmly against the ground while the rest of the body is forced in a different direction. A severe hyperextension of this time can cause an instant sprain and severe pain.

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to be on turf to set yourself up for a big toe sprain. This injury is also common with runners, gymnasts, dancers, and those who play courts sports such as basketball and tennis.

prevent turf toe

Does Turf Toe Need Treatment?

Yes! Always!

Some people think that because turf toe is “just” a toe injury, that nothing can really be done for it or that professional treatment isn’t really worth pursuing. This simply isn’t true.

While some cases of turf toe can ultimately be managed with home care, it is always best to get a proper evaluation and treatment guidelines from a professional. In fact, this is true for any type of sprain, especially in the ankle!

Without proper treatment, sprains have a higher risk of developing into more complex problems with longer-lasting symptoms, including chronic pain or instability. Having a thorough evaluation can help identify any potential complications so they can be addressed.

How is Turf Toe Treated?

The most common conservative treatment for turf toe is RICE therapy, especially when the injury is mild. Following a regimen of rest, icing, compression, and elevation can help many patients return to normal activity within 2-3 weeks.

We might also recommend MLS laser therapy to help relieve pain faster and accelerate the body’s natural healing process. Laser therapy is a great option for workers, athletes, and other active patients who want to get back to action faster.

Athletic tape is also often used to immobilize and relieve pressure from the injured joint during the recovery process, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers may also be suggested. Once healing is nearly complete, physical therapy exercises might be recommended to restore strength and flexibility in the toe joint.

If turf toe is severe and conservative treatments are not effective, surgical repair may be considered. The need for surgery is rare, and usually arises only If there is severe ligament tearing.

Lowering Your Risk of Turf Toe

Although it’s impossible to guarantee any sports injury will never happen, simple steps can greatly reduce your risk of turf toe. They include:

  • Wearing quality, sport-specific shoes. A stiffer-than-average sole can help protect those who are more vulnerable to turf toe.
  • Wearing an appropriate set of arch supports or custom orthotics. Dr. Timson can analyze your gait and foot shape to determine whether you could benefit from supports or inserts.
  • Using athletic tape around the toe when you play.
  • Avoiding overuse mistakes, such as too much high-impact exercise for too many days in a row. Wisely incorporate cross-training and rest days to prevent overstrain.

Get the Relief You Need for Any Toe Injury

Dr. Trent Timson has extensive experience helping athletes prevent and recover from all kinds of sports injuries, including turf toe. He’s helped athletes of all ages and levels, and he can help you, too!

Schedule an appointment by giving us a call or by filling out our online contact form.

Interested in an appointment with Dr. Timson?

McPherson Office

316 W. 4th Street
McPherson, KS 67460
P: (620) 241-3313
F: (620) 241-6967

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1005 North B St.
Herington, KS 67449
P: (785) 258-5130
F: (785) 258-5129

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108 S. Main Street
Hillsboro, KS 67063
P: (620) 877-4305

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