Turf Toe on the Gridiron

Oct 12, 2022

One of the dreaded words any athlete or dancer would like not to hear is turf toe. The most common sport people in the USA hear of turf toe is football. At least once a season, but usually more, we hear about an NFL player who is out of a game due to a turf toe injury.

You may be wondering, what exactly is turf toe? This article will explain what turf toe is, its causes, and how you can best manage/treat the condition. 

What is Turf Toe?

Turf toe is a term used to describe a sprain of the joint of the big toe. This injury happens when you bend your big toe too far up towards the top of your foot. Many people prone to suffering from turf toe include players who play on artificial turf. Still, the condition has also been known to affect other athletes, like basketball players, soccer players, gymnastics, dancers, and wrestlers. 

While this is a common condition among athletes, with about 45% of NFL players experiencing it, anyone can be affected, especially if you repeatedly strike hard surfaces with your feet.

graphic illustrating the affected region of turf toe

What Causes Turf Toe?

When you bend your big toe too far back towards your foot, the joints and the ligaments that connect your toe bones can get injured. This happens when you put too much weight on your big toe. 

What are the Symptoms of Turf Toe?

Some symptoms indicate you might have turf toe, but the main one is experiencing pain around the big toe, including the joint that goes up your foot to the ankle. If your big toe bends quickly and suddenly, you might feel the pain immediately, but in some cases, the pain kicks in gradually. In cases where you have hyperextended your toe, you might also hear a pop sound, followed by the pain. 

Other turf toe symptoms include:

  • Massive swelling around the big toe and the joint.
  • Sensitivity and tenderness around the toe.
  • Stiffness in the toe joint.
  • Inability to move the toe around, normally.
  • A loose toe joint, prone to dislocation.

Anytime you experience these symptoms and it gets difficult to walk, we recommend that you see one of our podiatrists immediately. If you have tried treating it at home and the pain doesn’t subside, you might need physical therapy or surgery to continue using your foot for your daily activities. 

Our doctors will ask you about your occupation, the history of your foot problems, and the type of shoes you wear. After a thorough physical examination of your foot, our doctors can also request an X-Ray or an MRI to determine the extent of the injury before making a diagnosis. 

Treatments for turf toe

There are numerous treatments for turf toe, and they include:


This is the most common treatment for turf toe since it can be done at home. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

  • Rest: This will require you to stop doing all strenuous activities that can make your injury worse. Give your toe a break to fully heal. 
  • Ice: Place an ice pack on the affected area to reduce inflammation and reduce swelling. 
  • Compression: Swaddle your foot and toes in a bandage. This keeps your big toe from moving too much and aggravates the injury.
  • Elevation: Ensure that you lie down with your foot up to keep swelling down by draining fluids. 

MLS Laser Therapy

MLS laser therapy involves using lasers to treat foot pain. Depending on the severity of the problem, treatment can take between six to ten sessions, with a session lasting about 30 minutes. It’s a regenerative treatment that aims to stimulate the body’s cells and aid natural healing. 

The lasers cause the body to respond by increasing the cell activity in the injured area, increasing blood flow to the injury, and increasing the immune response while at the same time reducing pain and inflammation. 

Taping of Toe

In this, our doctors may tape the big toe to the next toe to relieve the stress on it. Holding the toe rigidly in place will reduce the risk of worsening your injury. For this to work, it’s important that you tape the toe immediately after the injury has occurred. If need be, add an icepack over the tape. 

Physical Therapy

After a turf toe injury, there’s a risk of stiffness and pain in the toe joint. This is where physical therapy comes in. The physical therapist evaluates your foot and comes up with a designated program for rehabilitation. Some of the physical therapy exercises include:

  • Gently moving and manipulating the joints and foot muscles to avoid stiffness and improve motion. 
  • Different motion exercises to regain mobility and function in the big toe, beginning with passive movements. 
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises to restore stability in the toe. Exercises such as toe raises, squats, lunges, and calf raises all help restore strength in the toe. 
  • Agility, coordination, and balance exercises which are elevated to running, jumping, and pivoting as the toe heals. 
  • Specific sports training is geared toward simulating the athletic field while learning the best pivoting and jumping techniques to avoid further injury.

How to Avoid Turf Toe

One of the best ways to fully treat turf toe is to evaluate why it happened in the first place. Knowing the conditions in which you first got the injury will help you efficiently stop it from recurring. 

To avoid turf toe, it’s important that you wear stiff shoes when playing sports or working out to keep your toe from hyperextending. Also, do not work out barefoot. 

Wear shoes with hard soles to keep your toes in a natural, neutral position. 

Finally, you can work with a physician or a sports science specialist, who will train you on ways to help reduce the risk of injury. 

Contact Michigan Foot & Ankle Specialists for Treatment

Dealing with turf toe can be a painful experience, let alone the inconvenience that comes with immobility. 

We have some good news for you, though. At Michigan Foot & Ankle Specialists, we have extensive experience in treating all foot ailments, including, you guessed it, turf toe. Our staff are experts in foot and ankle treatment and will give you individualized care. Get in touch with us today, and book your appointment.



7243 Chase Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48126


(313) 582-6222


Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm


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