How to Prevent Turf Toe
Despite the fact that it’s a relatively common injury, most people don’t really know much about turf toe. You might know that it’s a bad problem to have if you’re an NFL running back, but not much more than that.
However, turf toe isn’t just something that professional athletes deal with. You don’t need to play a turf sport, either—or technically any sport, for that matter. And—trust us on this one—it’s not something you want happening to you, regardless of your circumstances.
Of course, if you’ve already had a case of turf toe before in the past, you already understand how painful and limiting it can be. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can prevent turf toe.
What Is Turf Toe?
If you’re only somewhat familiar with this condition (or you need a quick refresher), we’ll go over the basics here. If you want more detail, check out our turf toe condition page.
Turf toe, simply, is a sprain of one or more ligaments at the base of the big toe. Most people, of course, associate the word “sprain” with ankles, but almost any joint can be sprained, and the big toe joint is particularly vulnerable. Typically this results in pain, swelling, and reduced motion in the joint.
You can sprain your big toe in a single, traumatic incident when the toe gets badly hyperextended. This can happen to athletes who take a hit or tumble and find most of their body suddenly heading in one direction while the toe stays planted in place. However, other cases are the result of chronic, repetitive stress that weakens the toe ligaments over time. Dancers, for example, may struggle with this.
How Do I Prevent Turf Toe?
If you have a history of toe pain or turf toe, you absolutely should take steps to reduce your risk of another turf toe injury while participating in high-intensity physical activities. Unfortunately, previous damage to the ligament often means you’re more susceptible to future incidents, which can ultimately lead to chronic joint instability and post-traumatic arthritis.
Even without a history of toe problems, though, many of these tips are still highly recommended, particularly if you play turf sports, run regularly, or participate in other high-risk sports or activities (dancing, tennis, gymnastics, etc.).
Choose Good Shoes
When it comes to shoe or cleat selection, all the “normal” rules apply if you suffer from turf toe. In other words, you still want to find shoes that fit your feet properly, that are specifically designed for the sport or activity you’ve chosen to participate in, and provide plenty of support and cushioning.
But on top of that, turf toe sufferers should also pay extra attention to the stiffness of the sole. It doesn’t have to be as hard as a rock—you still need to be able to move, after all—but definitely avoid shoes that are easy to twist, bend, or fold. The more flexible the shoe is, especially toward the front near the toe box, the greater your risk of putting your toe in a painful, hyperextended position.
Employ Taping or Bracing
If you happen to play a high-risk sport or activity, or have had trouble with turf toe (or any kind of toe pain) in the past, taping or bracing the big toe before you go out and enjoy your activities can help prevent excessive motion and reduce your risk of injury.
Premade, reusable turf toe braces are a great and convenient choice, as long as they fit correctly and are comfortable to wear. Taping is also a great option that takes a little longer, but may provide you with a closer and more comfortable fit. We are happy to show you how to do this properly!
Wear Orthotic Inserts
In some cases, your toes may be at increased risk of injury due to the specific physical structure of your feet, or certain abnormalities in the way your gait mechanics operate.
Whenever there’s a biomechanical component to a foot problem, it’s very likely that an appropriate pair of orthotics—carefully selected or fitted by an expert—can greatly reduce your pain and risk of future injury. Among other things, they can help you get better, more balanced support for your entire foot when you push off, so that your big toe doesn’t have to do all the work!
Furthermore, because custom orthotics can be made out of many different types of materials, semi-rigid or rigid orthotics can provide an extra layer of protection against toe hyperextension.
Train Smarter and Not Just Harder
You don’t always have a choice over when and where you compete, but you usually do have a lot of flexibility when it comes to independent exercise and training.
If you’re worried about toe injuries, try to avoid pounding your feet against really hard, unforgiving surfaces. Natural grass is better than turf, while carpeted, rubberized, or even wood surfaces are better than concrete.
You should also avoid doing high-impact activities every single day. Make sure you build enough rest days into your training program, and don’t neglect working on your leg and core muscles, particularly in strength, balance, and coordination. For cardio, it’s a great idea to cross-train in activities that put less stress on the feet as well, such as cycling or swimming.
Also, exercise your toes! You might not think that toe stretches and strength training are all that important, but strong toes are less vulnerable to both traumatic and overuse injuries.
Don’t Neglect a Painful Toe
Many individuals choose not to seek help for a painful toe, thinking that there’s no point to seeing a doctor and that there’s nothing that can be done. But that just isn’t true!
If your pain is severe, or it’s keeping you from being as fully active as you want to be, it’s always worth contacting the experts. Not only do we have many treatments that can help you in the short term, but we can also help you defend yourself against future injuries and prevent turf toe.