What's a Turf toe?

Pain surrounding the big toe is known as turf toe.

When it comes to sports injuries, a common one heard in football, soccer or basketball is that of turf toe. The name itself may not sound like a very serious injury, but this big toe problem can sideline a player for weeks in significant pain.

The name “turf toe” came about when many athletes who played on artificial turf or grass were sustaining injuries to their big toe. Athletic shoes becoming more soft and pliable have also increased the occurrence of this toe injury. Turf toe is actually a sprain of the big toe that usually happens when the toe joint is excessively bent upward, beyond its normal limits. It can also happen when the toe is forcefully jammed into the ground.

Common Causes for Turf Toe

Turf toe is most commonly seen with athletes involved in sports such as football, basketball, baseball, soccer and gymnastics. Playing on grass or artificial turf increases a player’s risk for turf toe. The running, jumping, landing and quick turns on a hard artificial surface highly increases the likelihood that a player will jam or overextend the toe joint. Athletic shoes that do not fit properly and that are less supportive can contribute to turf toe.

Common Symptoms of Turf Toe

If your toe has been hyper-extended or jammed during a sporting event, ligaments can be stretched and the toe joint could even become dislocated. It is common to experience:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Limited mobility
  • Inability to bear weight on the foot

As time progresses, the toe joint could become stiff and in some cases, prone to arthritis.

Common Treatments for Turf Toe

It is imperative, as with any foot or ankle injury that turf toe is diagnoses early and treated promptly and appropriately, especially since there are conditions with similar symptoms, such as sesamoiditis. It is often difficult to know fully if the injury is a slight sprain, a tearing of ligaments or a dislocation when symptoms are common with all stages. Improper care or treatment that does not allow the toe to heal properly could result in chronic pain and injury. This would greatly inhibit a player’s ability to play at full potential.

Fortunately, there is treatment for turf toe. Some common treatment options that we offer patients at our Palm Desert, CA office are:

  • X-ray, diagnostic ultrasound to fully diagnose the nature of the injury
  • Laser treatment to help reduce pain and swelling
  • Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) is the best first step in treatment
  • Wear stiff soled shoes that do not allow your toes to bend farther than they should.
  • Taping the toe to limit range of motion
  • Special inserts for your shoes that can help keep the toe in place safely.

Turf toe is a significant injury that can keep you out of the game indefinitely. If you have a case of turf toe that hasn’t been treated properly or keeps recurring, contact our podiatric office for help. Dr. Danciger can provide proper treatment and do a gait analysis that might lessen the likelihood of further injury. Call our office today at (760) 568-0108 to make an appointment.  


Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle