Turf toe—a sprain to the biggest joint in the big toe—may seem trivial, but it can be a seriously painful injury and can impede your ability to participate in your sport.
Knowing your risk factors may draw awareness to the condition and encourage you to seek early treatment, which in turn can speed healing and prevent turf toe from progressing.
What is turf toe?
Turf toe develops when the largest joint in the big toe, called the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), hyperextends—either from an acute injury or from repeated push-off movements to the ball of the foot. As a result, soft tissue in the plantar complex (which supports and secures the MTP joint) is injured. Turf toe can happen to anyone, but if you play sports you're particularly prone to this injury.
Know your risk factors
Here are three risk factors for developing turf toe:
1. Soft-soled shoes. Shoes are increasingly lightweight and flexible—providing little support at the front of the foot. To prevent injury, it is recommended to wear stiff-soled shoes, like cleats, instead of tennis shoes.
2. Participation in certain sports. Lifting your heel off the ground and applying pressure to your big toe is the motion that leads to turf toe. Football players commonly develop this condition, especially linemen as they plant their feet to push forward. Basketball, field hockey, and lacrosse players are also at risk, as are dancers and runners.
3. Artificial turf. Artificial turf is usually harder and not as shock absorbent as a natural grass field. The number of MTP joint injuries have increased since the 1960s along with the influx of artificial turf.1 According to an 80-person survey of National Football League players, 45% of players experienced turf toe injuries during their professional work, and 83% of those injuries occurred on artificial turf.2
However, turf toe can occur on other surfaces as well, which is why supportive footwear is important.
You may mistake turf toe as a minor injury because symptoms can be mild initially. However, the pain can actually be debilitating, and if you're an athlete it can prevent you from playing. Early diagnosis and treatment can speed healing and prevent a mild case of turf toe from progressing.
- Zirm, RJ. Turf Toe. In: Update 2010: The Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of The Podiatry Institute. The Podiatry Institute. N.S. Parker, ed. Decatur, GA: 2010: 49-52.
- Zirm, RJ. Turf Toe. In: Update 2010: The Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of The Podiatry Institute. The Podiatry Institute. N.S. Parker, ed. Decatur, GA: 2010: 49-52. Found in Rodeo SA, O’Brien S, Warren RF, et al. Turf-toe: an analysis of metatarsophalangeal joint sprains in professional football players. Am J Sports Med 1990;18:277-9.