You need your big toe to be able to push off the ground with any power. The digit can handle an incredible amount of force. Unfortunately, that force can injure it, too, leading to big toe pain like turf toe that can keep you from participating in your favorite sports or activities.

Understanding a Toe Sprain

Turf Toe: Over-Bending the Big Toe

All the joints in your feet have ligaments holding the bones together. They also have soft tissues like cartilage capping the ends of the bones, allowing your joints to move smoothly. Turf toe is a sprain in these supporting tissues in the first joint of your big toe. It happens when the digit is bent backward too far at the ball of the foot. This is a relatively common problem for athletes and other active people who have to push forcefully off the ground for their sport, or are likely to be tripped or tackled.

The overextension of the digit strains the supporting ligaments and pinches the protective soft tissues capping the bones. Severe injuries may actually tear these tissues. The problem is usually a sudden one, though repetitive motion may sprain the toe as well. Your joint ends up swollen, aching, and painful to move. The discomfort worsens with pressure and may improve somewhat with rest, particularly if the damage developed slowly over time. You may or may not have bruising around the joint.

Diagnosing the Problem

Like ankle sprains, turf toe has a range of severity. A mild condition involves a little swelling and some discomfort. The supporting tissues are slightly over-stretched and tend to heal quickly with the right treatment. Medium sprains are seriously over-stretched toes. The soft tissues may even have small tears. The big toe pain and swelling are more significant and your range of motion more limited. A severe condition involves ruptured ligaments, intense discomfort, and significant swelling. You may even hear a “pop” when the injury occurs. Your toe will have sharply limited movement and take much longer to heal.

Dr. Darren Silvester and our Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic staff will examine your toe very carefully to diagnose both the problem and its extent. We’ll perform several tests on your big toe to test your range of motion, strength, and discomfort. We may request X-rays or other diagnostic images to check for broken bones and torn tissues as well. Once we have an idea of the damage, we can help you with a plan for treatment and recovery.

Managing a Sprained Big Toe

The RICE model—rest, ice, compress, and elevate—is important for dealing with the initial damage. Your foot needs rest so that motion and pressure don’t continue to damage your lower limb. This often involves some level of immobilization, too. Mild turf toe may only need a stiff-soled shoe to keep the digit from bending too far. If the damage is worse, you may need a special walking boot or even a cast to recover.

Ice the joint to decrease inflammation, big toe pain, and swelling. Wrapping your foot in a compression bandage and keeping it elevated will help manage swelling as well. We may also recommend pain medications with anti-inflammatory properties to help. Once the initial discomfort has decreased, you’ll be able to begin physical therapy to regain your range of motion and rebuild your digit’s strength. If conservative measures are not enough, you may actually need surgery to repair the damaged tissues.

Turf toe is a painful problem that can keep you from doing the activities you love. It doesn’t get better without treatment, and could actually lead to chronic pain and instability if you ignore it. Don’t wait to seek help. Let Dr. Darren Silvester at Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic in Pleasanton, TX, help you manage your condition today. Call our office at (210) 375-3318 or use our website to make an appointment with us.