What is Turf Toe

Turf Toe Overview

Turf Toe SymptomsCommonly recognized as a severe toe sprain, turf toe is the name for a sprained metatarsophalangeal joint injury. The sprain is commonly referred to as turf toe due to the fact that it often occurs on athletic turf. Athletes are generally the people who deal most with turf toe and are also the most at risk. The toe injury however is not solely limited to those who play on turf fields, all athletes can deal with this injury.

Turf Toe Causes

Turf toe occurs when the toe joint hyperextends and there is trauma to the toe joint capsule. Generally the person’s heel will be in the air and there will be pressure down on the toes enough to cause tears along the joint tissue.

This sort of action occurs from sudden stopping and starting, from changing direction quickly or from slamming the toes into the ends of one’s shoes. The tendons and joints within the toe joint can become inflamed as they deal with the excessive stress being forced upon them. This is why the injury most commonly effects athletes, the movements in many sports often involve rapid changes in direction and complex movements that rely heavily on the toe joints.

Turf Toe Symptoms

There are three grades of turf toe, 1 being the least serious and 3 being the most serious. No matter what grade of toe injury, the joint still needs attention.

Grade 1 Turf Toe: Recognizable tenderness and swelling in the injured toe joint. There should be little to no bruising with a full or close to full range of movement.
Grade 2 Turf Toe: Much more apparent bruising with tenderness arising in the surroundings areas. There can be moderate swelling along with a restriction in the range of motion. Any attempt to bear weight could result in toe pain.
Grade 3 Turf Toe: Bruising and tenderness will be severe with accompanying swelling. Any weight bearing will be extremely painful and the range of motion will be extremely limited. The toe can look disfigured and out of place.

Turf Toe Treatment

Once you’ve confirmed you have no broken toe symptoms, and the joint is indeed just sprained the next proper step would be to apply the R.I.C.E. Treatment. This can be accompanied by Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can help prevent further inflammation and lessen pain.

Grade 1 and grade 2 turf toe injuries are generally treating with a buddy wrap. Although it is not recommended, patients with a grade 1 injury can actually continue to use the toe after it is injured. This is usually only for athletes who must finish a game or sports tournament. We of course recommend taking the safe route to prevent the injury from getting worse.

Grade 1 injurues can usually recover in three to five days without complication. Grade 2 injuries generally take a little longer but rarely if ever take more than two weeks. During this time, patients are encouraged to limit movement and weight bearing on the toe as well as to avoid strenuous activity during the recovery period.

Grade 3 turf toe is a little more serious and may require an MRI or x-ray to insure there are no broken bones or a toe joint dislocation. The toe or foot may be casted for one to two weeks. Following that, the recovery period can take anywhere from two weeks to two months before the toe is in adequate shape to use freely.

Turf Toe Summary

As we mentioned before, this form of toe sprain is generally an athletic injury but it can effect anyone who engages in physical activity. Wear shoes that fit and always choose the appropriate footwear for whatever sport you are engaging in. Recurring episodes of turf toe can lead to hammer toe or claw toe. Make sure you’re giving yourself adequate time to recover and seeing a podiatrist if any complications arise.

4 Responses to Turf Toe Symptoms and Treatment

  • Cheyenne says:

    Hi there, I was dirt biking last weekend, 2 days ago, when I wiped out and got my foot stuck under my bike, bending my big toe back. I haven’t gone to the dr… can bear a little weight on it but it is very bruised and swollen. Although it was only he ine toe the bruising spread down my other toes and foot. I’ve been treating with with RICE and it seems to be helping. I’m not sure if it’s turf toe or dislocation but am wondering if a) I should get it checked out or b) what if anything else I can do for it. Also how long should one avoid physical activity after such an injury? Thanks Cheyenne

    • Toe Doc says:

      Hi Cheyenne,

      Time is the best solution here. If you check out the dislocated toe page you’ll find people who have had similar symptoms in the comments section. Time varies depending on the severity of the sprain, but if it’s actually turf toe it can sometimes take up to two months to be in decent working condition. If you’re thinking about engaging in physical activity, try testing out the toe first. This means gently putting wait on it, stretching it out with your fingers and getting it acclimated to accept your body’s weight and load. Once you toe appears to be close to par in flexibility to it’s opposite try engaging in physical activity again and see how it goes. You want to gently work toward rehabilitating your toe and continue to check internally to see if it’s improving.

      If the toe shows no signs of improvement in the next week and a half it’s likely time to see a GP or toe doctor. In this case it’s relatively safe to just limit the load on the toe and let it recover on it’s own but if it doesn’t seem to be improving, seek some medical advice.


  • lala says:

    Hi I just recently started walking longer distances and my toe has some pain when I apply pressure nothing severe somewhat red what should I do if I have turf toe? help?

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