What Is Turf Toe?

Posted on: 30 July 2015

Simply defined, turf toe is a sprain of the joint at the base of the big toe. This type of injury can involve damage to ligaments, tendons, and bones under the toe if the toe bends too far back when it hits the ground. Turf toe injuries range from mild to severe and often occur when playing a sport on an artificial surface such as a football field. However, athletes can injure the bottom of the big toe on any type of surface. A sport such as the martial arts, which requires wearing a soft flexible shoe, also puts you at greater risk of toe injury.


This type of injury usually occurs suddenly and causes symptoms such as:

  • Pain when you bend the toe down or pull it upward
  • Swelling of the joint
  • Tenderness and skin discoloration at the injured area
  • Less strength in the toe
  • Reduced range of motion in the toe
  • Difficulty walking (limping)
  • A lump or other deformity at the injury site

Your doctor may diagnose turf toe following a physical examination, which will include moving your toe against resistance. In addition, your doctor may observe you standing and walking and ask you questions relating to how the injury happened. He or she likely will ask you what activities make the pain or other symptoms worse. In some cases, X-rays or MRI imaging may be necessary to rule out fracture, which causes symptoms similar to turf toe. Hammertoes, gout, neuromas (swelling of nerve tissue), and bunions can also cause turf toe.


If the injury is mild, treatment to promote healing usually includes:

  • Putting ice on the joint to reduce swelling
  • Applying a compression bandage
  • Elevating your foot to drain fluid that accumulates in the joint
  • Resting and the use of crutches to take weight off the toe
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

In cases of severe pain that interferes with a patient's mobility, doctors often recommend these additional measures:

  • Prescription medications to reduce inflammation
  • Walking boot to immobilize the toe
  • Foot orthotics or other shoe supports (or wearing shoes with firm soles that won't bend)
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises to improve range of motion of the toe joint
  • Physical therapy that involves the use of electrical stimulation, laser therapy, or manual therapies to increase blood circulation to the area

How long it takes you to recover from turf toe depends on how severely you injure the toe. In serious cases of turf toe, you may need surgery or not recover fully from the injury. If that happens, the toe may remain stiff or you can get toe arthritis. For more information, visit a foot doctor at The Podiatry Center.