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Weakening Toe Injury: Turf Toe

Joints, and the tissues that comprise them, have a limited range of motion. Pushing them beyond that point can cause serious damage. Imagine an over-stretched bungee cord. That cord has lost its elasticity, and thus its ability to accommodate your needs and do its job. Your connective tissues can over-stretch, too—this creates a sprain. When you develop this toe injury, you lose some of your mobility.

Spraining Your Toe

A big toe sprain is also called turf toe . It happens when your toe is bent backwards too far at the ball of your foot. You have a number of ligaments that stabilize the joint and allow your toe to bend freely without losing its support or power. You also have other soft tissues inside the joint, such as cartilage, to help it to move smoothly and prevent it from bending beyond a normal range of motion. Suddenly bending the toe backwards past this normal range damages all these supporting tissues, leaving the toe weakened and in pain.

This toe injury can occur a number of different ways. Accidents during sports are among the most common causes, though anything that jams your digit up and backward can create the problem. Tripping, falling, pushing off the ground too hard, and even landing a jump incorrectly could potentially sprain the big toe. The problem could be an overuse issue as well—repetitive stress can pinch the joint and strain the ligaments. The condition got its name, turf toe, because the number of athletes who develop the issue tends to increase when playing on artificial turf. The harder surface doesn’t “give” underneath athletes’ feet, boosting their risk for toe injuries.

Understanding the Damage

If the turf toe is the result of overuse or poor training, the pain will develop slowly over a period of time. Many times, however, it’s the result of a sudden accident, so the pain is sharp and immediate. The joint will ache and have trouble supporting weight. Typically the affected area swells and stiffens as well. The area may or may not bruise.

The seriousness of the condition can vary. Mild sprains are a simple over-stretching of the stabilizing tissues. Medium toe injuries involve a partial tear of the ligaments and pinching the bone and cartilage. Severe sprains involve a rupture in one or more of the ligaments, causing significant weakness in the digit. How long your foot needs to recover will largely depend on how extensive the damage is.

Healing the Digit, Relieving the Pain

Just like ankle sprains, your digit does need prompt treatment to prevent chronic pain and instability. Dr. Paul C. LaFata will carefully examine your lower limbs and determine the extent of your toe injury. Our staff will use diagnostic images and other tests to check for fractures or other complications as well. Then we can help you begin treatment.

Stabilizing the toe to allow the ligaments to heal is the most important step. This will mean taking a break from all hard-impact activities and motions that require you to bend the ball of the foot frequently. You will need to wear a stiff-soled shoe, orthotic, splint, or even a walking cast to help with this. In severe cases, you may actually need to avoid putting weight on that foot altogether. Ice the injured area and keep your limb elevated as much as possible to decrease swelling. Once the toe has recovered, you’ll need physical therapy to rebuild your digit’s strength and prevent another toe injury. In rare cases, conservative methods may not be enough to heal properly; you may need surgery to repair it.

Injuries like turf toe are more serious than you may first think. You need your digits to push off the ground to move forward. If you’re struggling with toe pain, don’t wait to seek help! The sooner you address the issue, the sooner you will recover and the less likely you’ll develop complications. Call (610) 678-4581 or use the website contact form to reach us for an appointment .