While it’s one of the most harmless injuries, turf toe can be a nagging annoyance for athletes. Turf toe is defined as a sprain of the big toe’s main joint. Usually this occurs when an athlete is pushing off before a sprint and the toe is bent into hyperextension, with the toe stuck flat on the ground.
As artificial turf became more and more common in the United States, turf toe became more prevalent for athletes. The tough surface of artificial turf does not offer the “give” that natural grass does. While most people associate turf toe with football, it is common in many sports and activities.
Doctors have created a grading system for turf toe to better order treatment. The lowest level of turf toe, grade one, occurs when the plantar complex is stretched. In a grade one injury, athletes will experience some pin-point tenderness and slight swelling. A grade two injury is when the plantar complex is partially torn. Usually a grade two injury will result in more widespread tenderness, some swelling and bruising and a limited range of motion for the toe. Finally, a grade three injury happens when the plantar complex is torn all the way. When this injury occurs, severe tenderness, swelling and some bruising are inevitable. Most athletes experience pain when attempting to move the toe.
If you or someone you know experiences turf toe, it’s important to implement the RICE method of treatment: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest means not putting any weight on your foot and temporarily avoiding whatever activity caused your injury. When icing your injury, place cold packs on the injured toe for 20 minutes three times a day, avoiding direct application to the skin. To avoid swelling, compress your injury by wearing an elastic compression bandage. Finally, elevate the foot to minimize swelling. Elevation means lifting the foot higher than your heart.
If you experience pain, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine. With a grade one injury, athletes can usually continue their sport while wearing a stiff-soled shoe or orthotics. Grade two injuries can take anywhere from three to 14 days to fully heal. A grade three injury may require physical therapy. If your symptoms continue for several days, see a doctor to determine whether the injury may be more severe. For persisting injuries, surgery is occasionally required to ensure athletes can eventually return to their pre-injury level of competition.