Learn more about turf toe and its treatment options

Many people hear the term “turf toe” and assume the condition only applies to professional football players. Unfortunately, this painful joint injury affects a variety of athletes including soccer and basketball players, runners, dancers, and gymnasts. Even if you’re not an athlete, you can get turf toe by jamming your toe into a solid object.

Learn more about the conditions treated at UPMC Sports Medicine.

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What Is Turf Toe?

Turf toe is the common name for metatarsophalangeal joint sprain, or a sprain of the main joint in the big toe. It’s caused by hyperextension of the ligament under the toe, like a forceful upward push on the big toe while the rest of the foot remains stationary. It can be an acute injury or you can get it from repetitive strain.

Lots of athletic fields use artificial turf. It affords many benefits, like a soft, even playing surface and year-round use. But despite these advantages, it comes with its own potential problems. Cleats can lock your foot into the surface and prevent proper movement, which is how turf toe earned its name.

However, any activity that requires pushing off or landing on the toes can cause turf toe. Movements like jumping on a balance beam, hard soccer kicks, or even that game-winning layup can cause the condition. Hard surfaces, poor mechanics, and improper footwear also increase your risk factors.

Symptoms of Turf Toe

To prevent further damage, you should recognize the symptoms of turf toe:

  • Pain at the base of the big toe
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited motion in the foot
  • Extreme difficulty walking

For home treatment, stop athletic activity and put your feet up. Mild instances can be treated with rest, ice, and elevation. In more serious cases, a walking boot or surgery could be required.

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This particular injury can range from a mild sprain to a torn ligament. Your doctor will perform an exam, then order imaging if necessary. A doctor’s assessment can rule out dislocations and fractures — injuries that often have similar symptoms. Recovery time can range from less than a week to more than a month, depending on the condition’s severity.

Once pain decreases, physical therapy is an option to restore strength and flexibility to your foot. Taping techniques, such as kinesiology taping, after the injury can limit the mobility of the strained tissue and promotes healing.

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Steps Toward Preventing Turf Toe

There’s no foolproof way to avoid turf toe, but that doesn’t mean you should give up your athletic endeavors. Instead, take measures to reduce your risk:

  • Opt for shoes with firm soles that can help prevent ligaments from hyperextending. Discuss proper footwear for your sport with a knowledgeable expert.
  • Contact UPMC’s Sports Medicine experts who can teach you how to apply kinesiology tape for muscle and joint support.
  • Find the right stride. Optimize your biomechanics with a functional movement assessment. The evaluation includes gait analysis and delivers a personalized plan to improve body imbalances.

Still wondering what turf toe is? If you experience pain in the joint of your big toe and it’s limiting your movements, don’t keep suffering. Prompt assessment is necessary to diagnose the extent of damage and get you back on your feet.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.