Turf conjures up all sorts of mental pictures. You might imagine springy greens in an open field, or great rolls of grass being laid out on a lawn, or the artificial surface on an athletic field. It also refers to a type of injury—turf toe, to be precise. This injury affects many athletes (although anyone can develop it) by sharply impairing mobility.

Big Toe Meets Unforgiving Turf

Turf toe is actually a sprain of the ligaments and soft joint tissues attached to your biggest digit at the ball of the foot. They become over-stretched and injured when the toe gets suddenly and forcibly bent up and backward past the normal range of motion. Usually this happens during sports, though technically it could happen to anyone. Tripping, falling, and colliding with another athlete are the most common ways people are injured. It frequently happens when players run on artificial turf, which is where the condition derives its name.

The big toe is a crucial part of pushing off the ground to walk or run, so when its stabilizing ligaments are injured, you lose strength and power. This limits your overall mobility. Like most traumatic injuries, this is also very painful. You end up with immediate pain and some swelling. Your joint will feel stiff and uncomfortable to move. It may be very difficult to push off the ground to walk.

Degrees of Damage: How Bad Is It?

Like other types of sprains, turf toe has varying degrees of severity. A mild sprain involves over-stretching the ligaments and causes some light swelling and tenderness. A mid-level injury is more serious; the tissues may be partially torn, creating greater swelling and possibly bruising. A severe sprain involves ruptured connectors. You end up with significant swelling and bruising, and you’ll have extremely limited motion in your toe.

Like other sprains, it’s important to take care of the problem right away. Your foot needs time and treatment to heal. Leaving it to recover on its own makes it far more likely you will suffer complications and joint instability in the future. You might have trouble regaining full range of motion and toe strength, too.

Restoring Your Digit

Dr. Brandon S. Percival, Dr. Julie A. Percival, and Dr. William Harris will carefully examine your forefoot to diagnose the condition. Our staff may need X-rays or other images to check for complications, like fractures, and to look for tears in your connective tissue. Once we know the degree of your sprain, we can begin treating your turf toe.

Initially, RICE therapy (rest, ice, compress, and elevate) helps control swelling and gets your feet started on the path to healing. You’ll need to take a break from all athletic activities to rest your toe. Ice your forefoot to combat inflammation and swelling in the damaged tissues. Wearing a compression bandage and keeping your foot elevated may help that as well. Our team might recommend anti-inflammatory medications on top of that to relieve your discomfort.

The rest of your treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Severe sprains may require time immobilized in a cast or special boot and avoiding all pressure on the affected foot. Once the ligaments have healed, you’ll need to recondition your toe to handle sports and even day-to-day walking. Most likely you’ll start out in more supportive, stiff-soled shoes. Physical therapy will improve your range of motion and foot strength. When you’ve completely recovered, you can begin easing your way back into sports.

Turf toe is a fairly serious injury for an athlete, but it can put anyone out of commission for quite a while. Without the right care, too, it can contribute to long-term weakness and discomfort. Let our team at Carolina Podiatry Group help you manage it the right way the first time. Make an appointment at our Lancaster and Indian Land, SC, offices through our website or by calling: (803) 285-1411 for Lancaster, or (803) 548-FEET for Indian Land

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