Protecting Your Kids (and You) Against Turf Toe

Dr. Corey Fox
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Director of Massapequa Podiatry Associates

When you are working out or taking part in sports, a big component of your performance is how well you can get moving. But what happens when most of you wants to move, but part of you … doesn’t?

This is the frequent cause of a sprain to the main joint of the big toe—a condition known more informally as “turf toe.” If you or a loved one takes part in activities that involve plenty of dashing, pivots, and/or field play, then treating and preventing turf toe is something you should have some knowledge about.

Fortunately, you happen to know some Massapequa podiatry experts to get you started!

What Causes Turf Toe?

Let’s get a little more specific about just what happens with turf toe. This condition focuses on the metatarsophalangeal joint. Don’t worry; we’ll just call it the “MTP joint” from now on. This is the joint that is closest to the base of your big toe, and where the sprain occurs in a case of turf toe.

Our joints are surrounded by ligaments, tendons, and other tissues that hold the joint in place, allowing it to move freely without becoming dislocated. When a sprain occurs, one of these tissues has often become overstrained or overstretched as a result of being forced to move or bend farther than normal.

How do sports and certain physical activities factor into this? It’s all about how we place our feet, and sometimes getting stuck in a fixed position.

In some cases, the big toe can become “jammed” against the ground, becoming fixed to a surface such as artificial turf. Trying to take off from such a circumstance, or taking a tackle or fall, can lead to the joint bending more than it is made to (hyperextension), resulting in a sprain.

While turf is a common place for this to happen, especially when athletic cleats for this material tend to be softer and provide less stability to the front of the foot while also gripping to the surface, turf toe can still happen on just about any terrain.

It is also possible for turf toe to develop via repetitive actions that overstress the MTP joint.

What Does Turf Toe Feel Like?

The symptoms of turf toe can vary depending upon the severity of the injury.

In minor cases, where tissue surrounding the MTP joint has only been mildly overstretched, there can be a small amount of swelling around the base of the toe and pain in a specific spot.

If there has been a partial tearing of the tissue, however, the pain will be more widespread through the toe. You will also likely see more swelling and some bruising. There will be pain when trying to move the toe, and the range of this movement will tend to be limited.

In the most severe cases, the tissue is completely ruptured. There will likely be severe tenderness, bruising, and swelling. Moving the toe will be very painful, and you certainly shouldn’t try to do it!

Your First Response to Turf Toe is Important!

If you suspect that you, your child, or someone you care for has a case of turf toe, there’s one very important thing to do right away: STOP.

Do not keep playing. Do not hobble around to try and “walk it off.” It’s time for that individual to end their activity and assess the situation.

If the case is bad, with severe pain and swelling, do not hesitate to give us a call as soon as possible. Otherwise, follow classic RICE protocol:

  • Rest. Avoid placing weight on the foot.
  • Ice. Use cold packs for up to 20 minutes per session, several times per day. Always make sure you spend at least 20 minutes with ice off before applying it again, and do not place ice directly against your skin.
  • Compression. If you know how to use them, wear an elastic compression bandage. If you do not, or are not confident in their use, skip this instead or come to us for help.
  • Elevation. Keep your foot above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling.

If symptoms don’t improve after a day or so, even in a minor case, give us a call. We can provide further advice or have you come in for an examination. Try to remember in detail what was happening at the time of the injury to give us a clearer picture for diagnosis.

If an injury is minor enough, we may clear you for sports participation again if you wear a stiff-soled shoe for protection. Please do not attempt to do this yourself without a recommendation, though.

In some cases, orthotics might be recommended to take extra stress off the location of the injury. We might also suggest K-laser therapy for help in relieving pain and accelerating healing of the tissues surrounding the MTP joint.

In the most severe cases, involving severe damage or full ruptures, we may need to conduct surgery to repair the tissues surrounding the joint. If this ends up being the case, we will fully discuss recommended procedures and answer any questions you may have.

The Right Care Now Keeps You in the Game Later

Taking the right approach to turf toe and other sports injuries of the foot and ankle can help keep you stronger and more stable down the road. Sprains that do not heal properly can lead to weakness and a greater likelihood of trouble!

Nobody wants to sit out, but we aim to help athletes recover as quickly and safely as possible. Give us a call at (516) 541-9000 to schedule an appointment or fill out our online contact form if you prefer to reach us electronically.

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