There’s Nothing Artificial About Turf Toe Pain


Artificial turf is full of advantages. It stays green without watering, requires no mowing, doesn’t get muddy during play, and the field markings stay crisp and clear. What’s not to like? Well, one thing, maybe. It seems to increase certain injuries—so much so that one type is actually named after it: turf toe.

Big Toe Sprain

F This injury has always been around—it is simply a hyperextension of the great toe that results in overstretched or torn ligaments where it connects to your foot. However, it has occurred more often since athletes started playing on artificial turf. It involves the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, where your first metatarsal joins the phalanx of your big toe and is held together with a capsule of ligaments and tendons.

Turf toe occurs when the front of your foot gets stuck on the ground while you are pushing off for a step or jump, and the great toe is bent too far up towards your shin. The abnormal bend stretches the ligaments beyond their normal limits, and the tissue becomes weak or develops a tear in the fibers. The reason artificial turf increases your risk for this injury is that the surface is harder and doesn’t “give” under your weight, and your tread or cleats can get stuck, thereby not allowing your toe to lift off the surface as you move forward.

Slow and Achy, or Quick and Painful

There are two ways this injury can happen. One is a gradual process, where repeated movement keeps stretching the ligaments, which gradually grow weaker and become uncomfortable over time. You could also have a hard impact—such as a tackle gone wrong or landing awkwardly from a jump—that does damage to the metatarsal head or the ligaments. The pain will likely be immediate and continue to worsen over the next day or so.

Either way, you will want to come in to Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center and let our experts check out your foot. There is always the chance that you could have a fracture instead of turf toe. Both can be painful, cause swelling, and limit your toe movement, so it will need to be x-rayed for you to know for sure.

The Good News: Conservative Treatment Usually Works

As soon as you are injured, get off the foot and start RICE therapy. This uses a combination of rest, icing, wrapping in compression bandages, and elevating the foot to keep pain under control and reduce swelling and inflammation. Once you have been seen, we might recommend just continuing this treatment for 48 – 72 hours. We may have you switch to shoes with stiffer soles, so the MTP joint won’t move as much as you walk. We could also tape the toe to its neighbor to limit movement. More serious cases may require a walking boot or brace to immobilize the joint, and the use of crutches. In occasional severe cases, surgery is recommended, but this is not particularly common.

After a couple of weeks, the pain should subside and we will have you start physical therapy to restore full use of your toe. The muscles and ligaments need to be reconditioned so they become strong enough to hold the joint in place and head off chronic problems.

Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 and set up an appointment to deal with your turf toe injury. We have locations in Wheat Ridge and Golden, CO, with limited hours in Evergreen and Granby as well. We are experts in dealing with all types of sports injuries in your feet and ankles, so put your feet in our care for a full recovery. You can learn more foot care tips and information by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.

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