Turf Toe

Turf toe is painful bruise or sprain at the joint that connects the small bones of the big toe (phalanges) to the long bones of the food (metatarsals). This is called the metatarsal-phalangeal joint (MTP). It is called "turf-toe" because it is common among professional athletes that play on the hard surface of artificial turf.

How does turf toe occur?
Turf-toe pain happens when the big toe is bend backward, or if it is pushed strongly into the ground. This can happen from pushing off the big toe when starting to run or jump. Once the irritation begins, the joint can develop stiffness and swelling, which limits the range of motion for the joint and can be quite painful.

On soft surfaced fields, starting to run from planted position requires digging your toes down to grasp the ground to push off when you begin to move forward. Artificial turf fields are unyielding, so the pressure is put back on the joints in the foot rather than digging the toe down into the grass.

What are the signs and symptoms of turf toe?
Turf toe is usually felt as pain in the big toe at the inflamed joint, as well as stiffness, swelling, and lack of mobility.

How is turf toe diagnosed?
To diagnose turf toe, your doctor will examine your foot and ask you some questions about the history of your foot pain. Your doctor may have an x-ray taken of your foot to look for other problems such as broken bones that may be causing your pain.

How is turf toe treated?

  • Rest - All activities that require active use of the big toe should be restricted, such as running and jumping. Talk with your doctor about a plan for gradually returning to full athletic activity.
  • Ice - Ice packs may be used about 30 minutes at a time, every 4 hours to help alleviate pain and swelling.
  • Elevation - Elevating the foot may help reduce swelling and ease pain and inflammation. A rolled towel or a pillow under the ankle work well for this.
  • Medication - Your doctor may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory pain medication.
  • Immobilization- Turf toe will heal more quickly if toe movement is restricted by tape, bracing, or by the use of special shoe inserts. Wearing stiff soled shoes, especially shoes with cleats, may also help prevent toe movement and turf toe pain.

In the most severe cases of turf toe, bone spurs may appear around the affected joint, which can be surgically removed.

When can I expect to recover from turf toe?
Close attention to the treatment and prevention recommended by your doctor and limitation of activities that may contribute to the pain and irritation will speed your healing process. Because this condition commonly leads to an arthritic toe, your toe may never be "cured", but can be essentially pain free if taken care of properly.