The term “turf toe” probably gives coaches everywhere nightmares! Not just football coaches mind you. Although the condition is typically associated with football players who play on artificial turf, this injury can also affect ballerinas, soccer players, gymnasts—any athlete that performs on a surface harder than grass.  So, why would a coach toss and turn and lose sleep over it? Because this sprain of the big toe ligaments can put an athlete’s dreams on hold—and leave a coach’s roster shy of a player.

Kicking Around the Cause

Basically, turf toe is caused by jamming your big toe or by pushing off forcefully over and over again until the ligaments surrounding the joint become sprained. Your toe can jam against the end of your shoe when stopping short, or can hyperextend when trying to push off. This happens when you take a step and propel forward to push off, but your big toe happens to stay flat on the ground and bends beyond its normal limit.  Besides the playing surface, a major culprit is footwear. Cleats can stick to certain surfaces, and if a shoe is worn that doesn’t have adequate support, that can lead to the injury as well.

Sidelining Symptoms

Turf toe symptoms include pain and swelling along with limited mobility of the big toe joint. It is also possible to feel a “pop” when the injury occurs. If caused by repetitive damage, these symptoms develop over time and gradually get worse. If the injury is the result of a sudden forceful motion, however, pain can be immediate and increase within 24 hours. 

Tackling the Problem

If you suspect you might have this injury, it’s best to have your foot examined. A podiatrist will evaluate the problem and take into consideration your activities, the shoes you wear, as well as your medical history. An x-ray may also be taken to rule out other problems. If turf toe is diagnosed, treatment begins with R.I.C.E.—the acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed to reduce pain and any swelling, and crutches may be used to keep weight off of your foot. To ensure the toe stays immobile, it may need to be taped to the toe next to it and protected by a cast or special boot.  Pain should subside within a few weeks, at which time physical therapy can help return function. In severe cases, surgery may have to be performed.

Prevention Playbook

To keep from getting turf toe, or to prevent it from reoccurring, make sure your shoes are supportive and have a rigid sole. Consider orthotic inserts that can help distribute weight evenly and provide additional support. If at all possible, play on grass surfaces, and after injury, it’s a good idea to continue taping your toe for protection.

Dr. Craig H. Thomajan DPM, FACFAS is a coach’s best friend! He can help athletes recover from this injury and others to get them back into the game. If your big toe has been causing you pain, call (512) 328-8900 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists in Austin, TX today.