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Turf Toe

Turf toe is a common condition often seen in athletes and weekend warriors alike. And though “turf toe” might not sound like the most serious name to give an injury that can actually be quite painful, it is much easier to say than its more formal name: metatarsophalangeal joint sprain.

Metatarsophalangeal Joint Sprain? What is That?

Let’s start with the basics:

The metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints connect the metatarsals – or long bones in the forefoot – with the bases of the toes. Like the majority of other joints in the body, the MTP joints have connected ligaments and other soft tissues that allow movement and hold the bones in their proper positions.

When a sprain occurs, these tissues are forced beyond their normal range, and the big toe can be particularly vulnerable to this form of injury due to its position. This form of injury often occurs in sports and activities where the front of the foot is fixed on the ground and the heel is raised high, producing a great amount of force onto the big toe.

So, essentially, turf toe is a sprained big toe. So why not call it that?

Well, sports that are played on artificial turf, like football or soccer, tend to see this form of sprain more often. The surface is not only harder and less adept at absorbing shock than plain grass, but cleats and shoes made for turf are also often more flexible and provide less stability – which is good for agility, but not so good for preventing injury.

What Are the Symptoms of Turf Toe?

Much the same as a sprained ankle, pain is the first symptom when it comes to turf toe. The area at the base of the great toe may also swell up and become stiff, the joint may feel weak or you may not be able to move it normally, and bruises may start to show around the affected area.

Due to these symptoms, you may find it harder to wear shoes, and bearing weight on that foot may become painful. Furthermore, you certainly won’t be able to participate in your normal sports activities (nor should you try until the injury has healed).

The most common symptoms associated with turf toe include:

  • Pain and tenderness in ball of the foot and the big toe.
  • Bruising and swelling in the ball of foot and the big toe.
  • Inability to push off from big toe.
  • Limited movement of big toe joint.
  • Inability to bear weight on the ball of the foot.

However, you should keep in mind that pain and other concerning symptoms in the feet and toes can mask their true cause, so it’s important to always get a professional diagnosis before attempting any at-home treatment methods.

How is Turf Toe Treated?

The truth is that turf toe is not something to try and walk off. Damage to the joint can become worse the more it is used without care, and sprains that don’t heal properly can lead to chronic pain and joint instability in the future.

As soon as a sprain happens, get off the affected foot and apply the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest the toe by keeping weight off of it.
  • Use ice packs to treat pain and swelling (a bag or frozen peas wrapped in a thin cloth works well, too).
  • Compress the joint with an elastic wrap or taping to help keep the swelling down.
  • Elevate the foot. Sit or lie down with your feet resting on pillows so they are above heart level.

Next, you should call our office. Even if it the injury feels manageable on your own at first, you will want to make sure no part of the joint has been seriously affected. We may also recommend the proper anti-inflammatory medication for your situation.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, we might recommend the use of either taping in mild sprains, or a walking boot for more serious cases.

Surgery is usually not required for turf toe, but if the injury is causing long-term consequences or affecting performance, surgical repair of the soft tissues might be considered.

Need Help? We Are Here for You!

Prevent this injury in the first place by choosing the proper shoes for your activity and making sure your feet are in great shape for your sport or activity. Orthotics can also help by controlling the motion in your big toe. At Kalamazoo Podiatry, we can design a custom pair that addresses any biomechanical issues with your feet.

You can reach our office at (269) 373-1019 to schedule an appointment. Or, if you prefer, you can also connect with us by filling out our handy request form online to have one of our trained staff members contact you.


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