Turf Toe Injury: Explaining the Causes and Risk Factors

If you are a football fan, you’ve probably heard of turf toe, but you might not know much about its causes and risk factors. Read on to learn about the injury, its risk factors, and what can be done to treat it.


What Is Turf Toe?

Turf toe is a sprain to the largest joint in the big toe. This joint, called the metatarsophalangeal joint (where the long bone of the foot meets the first bone of the big toe), can be hyperextended during an acute injury or over time through repeated push-off movements from the ball of the foot. The soft tissues surrounding the joint can be damaged, causing the common turf toe injury. It is called turf toe because of the prevalence of the injury in American football players and the hard, artificial turf on which they play.


The severity of the injury may vary, and it is often expressed in grades. A grade 1 injury is the mildest, where the plantar complex that supports the joint is overstretched and experiences pain. Grade 2 injuries are characterized by partial tears, bruising, swelling, and pain associated with moving the toe. Grade 3 turf toe is the most severe with a complete tear in the plantar complex.


How Is It Caused?

Turf toe is commonly caused by repeated, forcible hyperextension. For example, sprinters who have to push off of the flat ground often suffer from turf toe. The forcible motion of a raised heel, fixed forefoot, and big toe assisting with the push off is the common cause of turf toe. Runners, football players, and other athletes who use this push off motion tend to see this injury most often.


Who Is at Risk?

Anyone can suffer from a turf toe injury. Athletes do tend to be at a higher risk, since the repeated, forcible motion is common in sports. Athletes who play on hard, artificial surfaces and turfs have a higher risk of this injury, since these surfaces have less give and don’t absorb shock very well. The softer athletic shoes designed for flexibility also increase the risk of turf toe.


In general, the main risk factors for turf toe are the sports you play, the surfaces on which you play them, and the shoes you use to participate. Football, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, running, and dance tend to see the most turf toe injuries due to their repetitive motions and hard playing surfaces. Soft-soled shoes may also increase your risk of injury. 


What Should You Do About a Turf Toe Injury?

As with any sports injury, it is better to play it safe in order to prevent long-term damage. Immediate first aid can include resting the injury, applying ice packs to decrease swelling, and elevating the foot. If you suspect turf toe, set up an appointment with a foot and ankle expert to make sure you receive proper treatment for the injury.


For questions about turf toe injuries or to schedule an appointment with an ankle doctor in The Woodlands, TX, reach out to the experts at the Ankle & Foot Specialists of Conroe, The Woodlands, today!