Turf Toe: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

November 7, 2019

Football players, dancers, wrestlers, and soccer and basketball players are all at risk for the same common foot injury: turf toe. If you’re unfamiliar with, the simplest explanation is that it’s a sprain of the main joint of the big toe.

Turf toe started to become a common injury for athletes after artificial turf was introduced to playing fields. Artificial turf is harder than grass and does not allow for much “give” when impact occurs. Hence, the term “turf toe” was born.

While the term originated from sports played on artificial turf, a wide variety of athletes can experience injuries on hard surfaces that result in turf toe. During sports, it’s common for the big toe to bend up into hyperextension, such as when pushing off into a sprint or making contact with the ground while kicking a soccer ball.

To better understand what this condition is, let’s take a look at the symptoms, diagnostic methods, and treatment options associated with this common toe injury. 


The signs and symptoms of turf toe can include pain, swelling, and limited joint movement. You might not be able to detect the condition right away–the symptoms usually begin slowly and worsen over time. In some cases, direct injury can occur to the bone beneath the cartilage in your foot. If this happens, you’ll likely feel the pain within 24 hours.


If you seek medical attention for a turf toe injury, your doctor will ask you about how you injured your toe, ask you to describe your symptoms, and talk to you about your general health.

During a physical exam, your doctor will likely check for swelling, bruising, and range of motion of your big toe joint. Bending the toe up and down and side to side can help indicate whether or not there is a tear in the plantar complex. They may do the same tests to your other big toe to spot any notable differences.

X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may also be used to help a physician accurately diagnose a turf toe injury.

Treatment for Turf Toe

The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) protocol is effective for most turf toe injuries when they first occur.

  • Rest: Take a break from the activity that caused the injury and avoid walking or putting weight on your foot.
  • Ice: Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression: To help prevent additional swelling, wear an elastic compression bandage.
  • Elevation: To reduce swelling, recline when you rest and put your leg up higher than your heart.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can also help provide relief for turf toe symptoms.

Most cases of turf toe can be treated without surgery, but in situations where a severe tear or fracture has occurred, a surgical procedure will be necessary to repair the soft tissues and restore proper mobility.

If you’re experiencing symptoms similar to the ones described above, make an appointment with a physician today. Treating turf toe early on leads to positive outcomes and can prevent long-term side effects. Our orthopaedic surgeons are here to help when you need it.


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