“Turf toe” has a sporty-sounding name, but you do not necessarily have to be on the field to experience this painful sports injury.

What is commonly known as “turf toe” is a sprain of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint – the joint at the base of your big toe. As with any sprain, this is not an injury you should try to play through. It is most effectively treated with prompt professional care!

What are the Symptoms of Turf Toe? What Causes It?

Turf toe typically occurs when the big toe is hyperextended. In other words, it was moved by an intense force in a way that exceeds its normal range of motion. 

Although turf toe can sometimes develop from repetitive impact against the MTP joint over time, most cases tend to be the result of one specific traumatic incident. Often, the foot will be firmly planted in a fixed position, while the rest of the body will try to move (or be forced to move) without it.

This is where the “turf” moniker comes from, as it tends to be easier for the foot to get caught and fixed in turf while wearing cleats. If you try to make a quick pivot while your foot is planted, or someone comes up to tackle you, it is easy for the toe to become hyperextended and sprained in the process.

But playing on turf is not a prerequisite to sustain this type of injury. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, basketball players and more can have a higher risk of turf toe.

Common symptoms of turf toe include:

  • Pain, often immediate, at the base of the toes 
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness and inability to move the toe
  • A “popping” noise at the moment of the injury
  • Instability in the toe joint

All the above symptoms need to be present.

Vector illustration (diagram).Turf toe. Sport trauma. Mechanism of rupture of plantar plate of the first toe of the foot. External and skeletal views of an ankle.
Beautiful female feet on gray background. Cosmetology, pedicure, foot care, foot fungus, treatment. Warm floor, relaxation

Treating Turf Toe

A common misunderstanding is that nothing can really be done for toe injuries other than letting them heal on their own. This is simply not true!

Some turf toe injuries, just like some ankle sprains, can be managed well at home, but it is always better to receive a proper evaluation and treatment from a foot and ankle specialist. If you provide inadequate treatment for turf toe and it fails to heal properly, it can easily lead to a chronic debilitating condition.

RICE therapy should be initiated as soon as possible after a suspected turf toe injury. This is the classic acronym for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Keep weight off the foot as much as possible and keep it above the level of your heart whenever sitting or lying down. Apply ice to the joint 30 minutes out of each hour several times within the initial 48 hours after the injury making sure the ice is not in direct contact with your skin. 

After initiating RICE therapy, give us a call so we can further evaluate and establish a treatment plan based on the severity of your injury.  We may order an imaging test (x-ray, MRI) to rule out the possibility of a fracture or other concomitant injuries.

For mild cases of turf toe, we may recommend further rest, as well as the use of medication to reduce pain and inflammation. More severe injuries may require Spica taping, a walking boot or cast to immobilize the toe, providing a better opportunity for a more rapid recovery.

In most cases, turf toe injuries take at least 2-3 weeks to heal. Some stretching and exercises may be recommended at that time to help restore full strength and range of motion to the joint.

If the toe has suffered a severe sprain and aggressive conservative treatments fail to provide adequate relief, surgery may become a consideration. The need for surgery is rare, and only tends to arise if the ligaments surrounding the toe joint have been severely torn or other significant damage has occurred. 

Relief from Toe Pain and a Return to Action

The experts at InStride Crystal Coast Podiatry are always here to help patients overcome injuries and return to their activities as quickly and as safely as possible.

Call us to schedule an appointment at our New Bern office, or fill out our online contact form if you prefer to reach out to us electronically.