What is ‘Turf Toe’ and How Can You Avoid It?

A brief guide to the foot injury common in athletes

Turf toe is essentially a sprain of the main joint of the big toe. Common in football players, the injury often occurs when an athlete is pushing off their back foot and starting a run. The toe is bent upward when pushing off the ground, resulting in the sprain. The name comes from the surge of injuries that occurred after turf was introduced into sports. Since turf is less forgiving than grass, injuries rose and so it’s called turf toe.

Although the injury is usually associated with football players, it happens in other physical activities as well. Turf toe is marked by pain, swelling and limited movement in the affected toe. Sometimes athletes will hear a “pop” when the injury happens.

It’s typically treated using the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and it’s crucial that the toe is allowed enough time to heal before returning to sports or exercise. In severe cases, athletes may need physical therapy to regain full mobility.

How to Avoid Turf Toe

  • Wear rigid, supportive shoes that fit well
  • Consider inserts if you’re concerned about turf toe
  • Be mindful when exercising on hard surfaces

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