Turf Toe

UW Health's Sports Medicine doctors in Madison, Wisconsin, treat a wide range of common athletic injuries, including turf toe - a sprain in one of the joints of the toe.


About Turf Toes


A turf toe injury is a sprain of the joint capsule at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint or MTP joint). The injury is called turf toe because of the frequent MTP joint sprains that occur while playing on artificial turf. However, this injury can occur on any surface.


How does turf toe happen?


Turf toe occurs when an athlete’s shoe gets caught on a surface with the big (great) toe in an extended upward position, causing a hyperextension injury to the joint capsule. This injury is commonly associated with sports requiring frequent stops and starts as well as quick direction changes. The type of footwear worn also plays a role in the increased risk of injury. Athletes who participate in sports which require a cleated shoe for traction and grip tend to be at higher risk.


Turf Toes Symptoms


Swelling and pain are the most common symptoms, which develop immediately after an injury. The base of the big toe tends to be quite tender, and pain is more intense with extending the big toe and weight bearing activities such as walking.


Turf Toe Treatment 


Treatment is usually conservative, which means that surgery is not necessary in most cases. X-rays may be obtained to rule out a fracture or broken bone. Treatment usually consists of rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE).


During the initial phase of treatment, immobilization in a walking boot may help promote healing and minimize discomfort. Stiff-soled shoes may also be helpful.


After a period of immobilization and rest, the athlete may begin rehabilitation for the injured toe, which focuses initially on regaining motion and returning to normal walking. Adding extra support to the injured toe with a rigid shoe and/or athletic tape to restrict motion may also assist with healing. When returning to sports, athletes should progress slowly and only play if determined to be safe by a medical professional. Athletes should gradually increase the amount of time spent performing activities/sports until an entire game can be played without pain.