Turf toe can occur gradually over time due to overuse. It can also develop suddenly from an acute injury. Swelling, pain, and tenderness at the ball of the foot or metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), a big toe joint, are classic turf toe symptoms. An athlete, for example, may complain of pain when pivoting, pushing-off, and cutting.

The symptoms and degree of pain are associated with the severity of the turf toe injury, ranging from grades 1 to 3. Some athletes with turf toe continue sport activities with nominal discomfort, whereas others are unable to apply weight to the injured foot and have trouble walking. Most people with turf toe are able to treat this injury without surgery.

What Are the Symptoms Associated with Each Grade of Turf Toe?

Grade 1

  • Symptoms are mild
  • Minor swelling and confined tenderness
  • Typically no black and blue discoloration
  • Most common turf toe injury

Grade 2

  • Symptoms are moderate
  • Tenderness and swelling are dispersed
  • Limited big toe motion
  • Slight black and blue discoloration
  • Mild limp when weight is applied
  • Symptoms intensify within 24 hours

Grade 3

  • Symptoms are severe
  • Significant swelling
  • Pain upon touch
  • Limited big toe motion
  • Unable to put weight on hurt foot
  • Dispersed black and blue discoloration

A person who suspects a turf toe injury is advised to see a doctor depending on the extent of the injury and how long symptoms persist.

Dr. Gary Stewart is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in general orthopedics, sports medicine, and total ankle replacement. He practices with Resurgens Orthopaedics and has served as the Chief of the Division of Foot and Ankle Surgery at the Atlanta Medical Center.