Each fall football season proves to be one of the most exciting times of the year. Football is fun to watch, but it’s hard to deny that the sport exposes the body to a variety of foot injuries. A foot injury that is common in football players is turf toe. In fact, Minnesota Viking’s safety Harrison Smith was recently side-lined because of this type of injury. The name sounds funny, but turf toe is no laughing matter to the player who suffers from it. Turf toe is a sprain to the ligaments of the big toe joint. Turf toe occurs when the big toe is forcibly bent up into hyperextension, such as when pushing off into a sprint while having the toe stuck flat on the ground. This injury is common in football players because artificial grass “aka” “turf” is harder than natural grass and has less shock absorption Turf toe can happen to football players of any level.
The most common symptoms of turf toe are pain, swelling, and limited movement at the big toe joint. Symptoms develop slowly and can get worse if there is repeated injury. A forceful injury to the big toe can cause immediate pain that gets worse over 24 hours. Some patients may even feel a “pop” at the time of injury.
Like ankle sprains, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E) can be used to treat turf toe. However, it is important to make an appointment at Affiliated Foot and Ankle, located in Howell, New Jersey, if your pain does not resolve or gets worse in the following weeks. If not treated correctly, turf toe can lead to a decrease in the range of motion of the big toe joint and even a complete loss of range of motion. If you find it difficult to walk on the foot, an X-ray of your foot should be done to rule out a possible fracture. Most turf toe injuries are treated without surgery. In addition to R.I.C.E. therapy, your podiatrist may recommend medication that can control pain and reduce inflammation, tape your toe to reduce stress, or immobilize your foot through the use of a surgical shoe or cast boot. Most turf toe injuries heal within 2-3 weeks. Physical therapy may be needed for strengthening and range of motion improvement.
Remember to give your toe time to heal. Many athletes return to the field too soon, leading to further damage. Once you are completely healed and can return to normal activity, wear shoes that fit properly and have soles rigid enough to protect the big toe joint. Also, avoid playing or practicing on fields that are not properly maintained. Finally, even though football is not the most gentle of sports, always try to be safe and use common sense on the field.