Turf toe is a common sports injury that involves a sprain to the great toe joint. It is called turf toe as it is commonly experienced by those who play on artificial turf surfaces. This injury can have two different causes. More commonly, the toe is injured when it is pulled upward on a hard surface, causing tearing of the tissue on the bottom of the joint. Less commonly, the toe is injured when it is flexed downward and tissue on the top of the toe is torn. The injury may be minor enough that it is not really noticed at first, and the pain may be dull enough that the athlete continues to play on it. This eventually leads to a worsening of the injury, and can make healing time far more extended.
Common symptoms include pain and swelling of the big toe joint, especially when the toe is pushing off of the ground. The motion of the joint can eventually become restricted due to the pain, and the skin around the joint can appear black and blue due to bleeding incurred from tissue tearing. The toe will be more painful while barefoot or in lighter, more flexible shoes, and up to half of the people who develop this injury will have long term pain issues.
Treatment is centered the individual needs of each injury and the sport involved. Most of the time, some combination of icing, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and stiff shoes is used. Strapping or taping the toe can help an athlete return to activity quicker, and the use of a prescription orthotic insert can provide support for the great toe joint from underneath. The time away from the sport varies by the severity of the injury. Minor cases may only need a few days of rest, while more significant cases may need one to two months of rest. Severe cases may need cast immobilization or surgery outside of rest from sports to allow for full healing.