Football fans from all over the country know turf toe is bad news that can keep a favorite player off the field and potentially cripple a team’s chances to win. Most people, however, do not know what actually happens with this common injury. At Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle, we provide the treatment necessary to resolve a wide array of foot and ankle problems, including when a patient sprains his or her big toe.
Turf Toe Explained
Essentially, this injury happens when the big toe extends beyond its intended limit and the connective tissues end up becoming inflamed. This injury was particularly prevalent when artificial playing surfaces (“artificial turf”) became common on football playing fields. The association between the condition and this surface contributed to this well-known name.
The big toe has two different joints, but the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint is the one relevant to this condition. The MTP joint is found at the base of the toe, right where it connects to the foot, and is comprised of the phalanx and metatarsal bones, which are surrounded by the “plantar complex.”
The plantar complex holds the joint in place and keeps it from dislocating. It includes the plantar plate, collateral ligaments, flexor halluces brevis, and sesamoids. Together these parts provide stability, strength, and restrict unnatural movement. Turf toe is a matter of injury to any of the soft tissues making up the plantar complex.
Grading Toe Sprains
Not all sprains are equal, and medical professionals use a grading scale to determine the severity of the injury:
- Grade 1 – This is the mildest case and the patient will likely experience slight swelling and pin-point tenderness.
- Grade 2 – At this level, there is often widespread tenderness, moderate bruising, and swelling.
- Grade 3 – In the most extreme level, swelling, bruising, and pain are rather severe and it can be difficult to even move the big toe.
Common Turf Toe Causes
Unlike sprained ankles, which happen to many people who are not playing sports or performing strenuous physical activity, a sprained big toe only happens under extreme physical duress. It is closely related to athletic events like football, soccer, and ballet.
For ball sport athletes, a common situation causing the injury is that the big toe “sticks” to the ground while the rest of the foot is pushing off with tremendous force, thereby causing the hyperextension. This also is the result of softer, more flexible shoes that do not have good stability in the front.
Treating Toe Sprains
The initial wave of treatment for a sprained big toe should be the RICE protocol. This is a matter of resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the injured toe. Additionally, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) purchased over-the-counter can provide symptom relief. Be sure to check with us first, though, for dosage recommendations.
Although RICE is good for Grade 1 sprains, additional care should be taken for those that are more severe. This includes the use of a walking boot or cast and physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the big toe. Surgery is not usually necessary in treating this condition, but it can be an option for certain cases that fall in the Grade 3 category.
Turf Toe Treatment at Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle
Hopefully RICE treatment will help with your sprained toe, but it is a good idea to have us check the injury for possible fractures in the bones. Our foot specialists are here to help if your symptoms merit further assistance. We can evaluate your condition and then create an effective treatment plan to get you back on the field in the shortest possible time.