What is Turf Toe?

If you’ve ever watched a sports event and heard that a player was suffering from “turf toe” you may have wondered what that meant. Turf toe is a painful condition that happens when there is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe joint (the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint).

Turf toe is most common among athletes who play football, soccer, basketball, and other field sports. It normally occurs on a grass or artificial turf field, which is why the name is referred to as “turf toe” (turf absorbs less shock than natural grass, leading to a higher incidence on that surface). However, it can also occur on hard surfaces, affecting basketball and tennis players, among others.

Causes of Turf Toe

Turf toe occurs when the forefoot is firmly fixed on the ground, the heel is elevated and an excessive or repetitive force cases the big toe to bend too far backward, typically during explosive running or jumping movements. Over time, this hyperextension causes the soft tissue in the big toe to become damaged and a sprain develops in the ligaments surrounding the joint.

Turf toe hyperextension

While this type of injury mostly occurs in response to forceful propulsion or foot position during activity, footwear can also play a role. Athletic shoes designed for artificial surfaces tend to be softer and more flexible. This may give an athlete more agility, but it does not provide enough support for the foot. If an athlete is wearing a flexible soccer cleat, for example, it can allow the foot to bend too far backward, leading to a turf toe injury.


Symptoms of Turf Toe

Turf toe is characterized by a painful swelling and limited joint movement at the base of the big toe. The pain can be mild at the onset, but can worsen over time if the injury is compounded by further aggravation. Sometimes, when the injury occurs suddenly, it is associated with a “popping” feeling at the base of the foot, which makes it difficult to move the toe through a normal range of motion. It is even possible to dislocate the big toe.

Turf Toe Treatment

Early on, this foot condition can be treated by using the R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method. This will help the joint to heal as it rests. You can also use over-the-counter oral medication, like Ibuprofen, to reduce the swelling and pain.

You may need to wear a stiff-soled shoe to prevent excessive flexion at the MTP joint. You can further protect the joint from strain by putting the foot in a walking boot or short cast to limit mobility while maximizing support. If your case is severe, it may require surgical intervention.

To prevent a recurrence of turf toe injury, you can ask your trainer to tape the toe to keep it from bending too far backward. You can also wear shoes that offer better support. This will also help keep the toe joint from bending backward excessively. Your Houston podiatrist can also recommend a turf toe plate or custom orthotic to provide the right amount of support based on your injury.

As with most types of foot and ankle pain, we recommend your come in for treatment of turf toe immediately. Dr. Maislos can help you determine the severity of your issue, and provide a realistic assessment of recovery time and specific measures you should take to correct the issue. While all athletes dislike the idea of “sitting out” during training or competition, you’ll want to heal turf toe in its early stages and not allow more serious complications, like fractures of the sesamoid bones, to occur.

If you have pain and swelling at the joint of the big toe from sports-related activities, it may be turf toe. Schedule an appointment with Houston Foot and Ankle Care by calling (713) 541-3199 right away.

Houston Foot and Ankle

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