Column: How to tackle turf toe


Commentary by Dr. David Sullivan 

Now that football season is back, you may have heard sports commentators talking about turf toe. While it affects football players, turf toe can happen to anyone involved in sports activities. Participants in soccer, basketball, wrestling, gymnastics and dance are especially at risk.

Turf toe is a sprain to the largest joint of the big toe and happens when the big toe joint is overextended. Often, this overextension occurs because the toe gets pushed forward too often. This injury can build up gradually over time. It gets worse without treatment, especially when you remain athletically active. That’s why it’s important to recognize turf toe symptoms. 

Turf toe causes pain, and often bruising may be noticeable at the bottom of the big toe. With severe injuries, the toe could even dislocate. It may hurt to walk, and the toe could feel stiff and show signs of limited mobility. Without treatment, symptoms will worsen, and the risk for future injury will increase. Usually diagnosed with a physical exam, an X-ray may be necessary to rule out fractures. 

We’ll recommend rest and icing. Elevating the foot can reduce swelling and anti-inflammatory medications can offer pain relief. It’s also important to keep the big toe from moving while it heals. We may immobilize your toe with taping. You’ll also need to change footwear, choosing stiff-soled shoes to prevent too much pressure on your toes. 

In rare cases, surgery may be needed. But that’s more likely if the injury extends beyond the big toe joint or affects the plantar plate, which keeps the big toe stable. This is because turf toe and plantar plate injuries can destabilize the entire foot.  We will likely recommend a walking boot so you can stay mobile without hurting your recovery. 

Don’t let the fear of downtime keep you from coming in. Instead, remember this: the sooner you come in, the less damage you’ll inflict on your toe.