Turf toe is a term used to describe an injury to the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint of the big toe. This joint is located at the base of the big toe and is important for walking, running, and pushing off, especially during athletic movements. Turf toe typically occurs when the toe is hyperextended, often due to a sudden force applied to the toe, such as when a person’s foot is planted firmly and the toe is bent upwards.

Turf toe can make running or walking very difficult, especially during football.
Athletes in contact sports can experience turf toe at higher percentages.

Turf Toe and Contact Sports

This injury is often seen in athletes who participate in sports that involve an excessive amount of pushing off with the toes, such as football, soccer, and basketball. It can also occur in activities like ballet, where the toes are frequently pointed.

Common symptoms of this type of injury include pain, swelling, and limited range of motion in the big toe. In more severe cases, there may be bruising and instability of the joint. You may even find that walking is more difficult and painful compared to other types of foot injuries.

The RICE Protocol for Injury

The RICE protocol is a treatment for turf toe that can help minimize stress on the joint: 

  • Rest: Avoid walking or putting weight on your foot
  • Ice: Apply ice packs for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day for the first 48 to 72 hours
  • Compression: Use a boot to immobilize the toe
  • Elevation: Keep your foot raised above your heart while resting

A healthcare provider will typically perform a physical examination and may order imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI to assess the severity of the injury. Surgery may be required if there is a significant ligament tear or fracture.

If the surgery was not required for the pain, over-the-counter pain relievers may be recommended. Once the acute phase has passed, a physical therapist can help strengthen the toe and improve the range of motion.

Additional Resources