What is turf toe?

Turf toe is a sprain in the ligaments around the big toe joint. Turf toe often happens suddenly when the toe becomes hyperextended.

Athletes, such as football players, are the most likely group of people to develop turf toe.

Causes of turf toe

Turf toe can be caused by the following:

  • The toe is hyperextended and forcibly bent backward,when the toe stays flat on the ground instead of lifting off in an athletic move the joint can be injured.
  • A toe stays flat instead of lifting off when a football player or other athlete is tackled.

Risk factors for turf toe

Athletes who play sports involving their feet including football, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, and dance are at a higher risk for developing turf toe.

Also, people who wear shoes that are not supportive in the toe box are also at higher risk for turf toe. These soft soled shoes do not provide protection in a case of sudden force.

Symptoms of turf toe

Turf toe can be categorized in 3 grades:

  • Grade 1 — mild turf toe that is tender to the touch and slightly swollen.
  • Grade 2 — moderate turf toe where mobility is impacted, swelling is deeper and it is more painful to the touch.
  • Grade 3 — severe turf toe where ligaments have been torn and it is extremely painful, swollen and mobility is more severely impaired.

Diagnosis of turf toe

Turf toe is diagnosed under the care of your primary care doctor, podiatrist or sports medicine physician.

The physician will perform a full medical exam as well as work with you to understand your medical history. The physician may order an x-ray to determine if there has been a bone fracture or an MRI to confirm turf toe (MRIs provide images of structures that are not bones).

Treatments for turf toe

Early medical intervention for turf toe is important to avoid long term repercussions from the injury. Athletes especially need quick treatment in order to get back to play as quickly as possible.

For mild cases of turf toe (grade 1), the first line therapy is rest, ice, elevation, and compression in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medication and immobilization.

For moderate cases of turf toe (grade 2), patients should take a minimum of 3 days away from sporting activity in conjunction with all the treatments from grade 1.

For severe turf toe cases patients will need to develop a customized treatment plan with their physician that may include:

  • Splint or brace
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy

Recovery from turf toe

Recovering from turf toe can be quick for grade 1 cases or can take many months for a grade 3 case.

It is imperative to follow your physician’s instructions in order to get back to normal activity as quickly as possible.

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