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Turf Toe Questions and Answers

Even professional athletes who use their feet for a living don't necessarily give much thought to the big toe until that essential part of the foot displays painful problems. One such problem, commonly known as turf toe, can make your foot uncomfortable to play on, walk on, or even touch.

The more you understand about turf toe's causes, risk factors, and symptoms, the more quickly you can recognize this threat to your mobility and seek the proper treatment from a podiatrist. Look through the following questions and answers regarding turf toe.

What Does Turf Toe Involve?

Turf toe qualifies as a type of sprain injury. It affects the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, the joint that attaches the metatarsal bone in the foot to the first bone of the big toe. This joint encompasses a set of connective tissues and other structures called the plantar complex.

In turf toe, acute or chronic stretching of the MTP ligaments can cause these ligaments to tear. Repeated trauma to these tissues over time can also cause bone spurs to form at the base of the toe.

Who Gets Turf Toe and Why?

Turf toe may occur either as an acute injury or as a repetitive motion injury. It gets its nickname from the fact that football players who run on unyielding artificial turf find themselves especially prone to the condition. Sudden shifts in direction on hard ground can force the MTP joint beyond its range of motion, damaging it.

Repeated minor injuries to the MTP joint can place the ligaments in a state of constant inflammation, with the damage and discomfort growing progressively worse every time you re-injure the joint. For this reason, you need to get a case of turf toe treated as soon as possible instead of simply taping the toe and playing through the pain.

Because most people don't subject their MTP joints to this kind of damage, turf toe generally strikes athletes such as professional sports figures and dancers. However, anyone whose lifestyle or job places undue stress on this joint can develop turf toe.

What Symptoms Does Turf Toe Cause?

Turf toe can cause a variety of symptoms in the MTP joint itself or toward the front of the foot. Common signs of turf toe include pain and tenderness, swelling, and bruising. You might have trouble pointing the toe downward, or you may feel the joint dislocate when you use it. You might even find bearing weight on it impossible.

Sprain injuries such as turf toe typically fit into different classes of severity. Mild cases may only cause swelling and tenderness around the joint, while a complete ligament tear may make your toe completely unusable. 

How Do Podiatrists Diagnose and Treat Turf Toe?

Podiatrists can recognize a likely case of turf toe by inspecting the toe itself, discussing your athletic or work history, and asking you about your symptoms. Additional diagnostic techniques such as MRI, CT, or X-ray imaging can reveal the interior changes to the joint to determine whether you have turf toe or something else.

Treatment for turf toe often starts with the tried-and-true protocol or rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). These self-remedies can ease acute symptoms and help get the healing process off to a good start. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can also reduce swelling and discomfort.

If you absolutely must stand and walk on a sprained MTP joint, your podiatrist may immobilize the joint by taping or splinting the big toe to its neighboring toe. You might also receive a prescription for a walking boot, cast, or other device designed to take stress off the toe.

How Can You Avoid Turf Toe?

Certain smart protective measures can help you minimize your struggles with turf toe. Taping the toe before an athletic competition offers one simple means of lending extra support to the toe and preventing extreme toe joint motion. Your podiatrist may also recommend that you use different footwear or orthotic inserts to improve foot support.

Ankle & Foot Clinic of Everett can help you fix your turf toe before it gets any worse so that you can return to your favorite activities. Contact our clinic today.

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