The Truth About Turf Toe

Chances are good that you’ve heard the term “turf toe” before, but unless it’s responsible for keeping a star running back or wide receiver out of your fantasy team lineup, you may not have much reason to know what it is.

There is a certain degree of truth behind the popular stereotype, of course. There’s a reason, after all, why they call it “turf toe”—the dynamics of tackle football and the physical nature of artificial turf create an ideal scenario for the injury. However, this injury isn’t limited to NFL stars, or football players, or even athletes playing on artificial turf. It could even happen to you during a pickup basketball game or a tennis match with a friend.

Essentially, turf toe is simply a sprain of the joint at the base of your big toe. Just as an ankle sprain occurs when you roll or twist the joint beyond what the tendons and ligaments can tolerate, turf toe occurs when the toe joint is hyperextended past the breaking point. At the low end, you might simply feel a bit of tenderness and sensitivity due to connective tissues that have been stretched but remain more or less intact. More serious injuries can feature the partial or complete tearing of ligaments and tendons, with significant pain, bruising, and loss of motion.

So why is it called turf toe? Artificial turf (especially the first few generations) tends to be harder and less forgiving than natural grass, with less shock absorption and often more “grip.” Then, you have football players who wear cleats (which can get caught and stuck) and frequently must start and stop, change direction, and powerfully push off with their feet and toes several times each play. It doesn’t take much—say, a tackle from behind when the ball carrier’s toe is already stretched to the limit—to cause a nasty sprain.

Again, however, even though football is the sport most commonly associated with turf toe, any activity that features running, cutting, jumping and/or physical contact can lead to injury. If it happens to you, you should immediately discontinue your activity and see the experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona. As with any sprain, turf toe can linger and lead to chronic pain and problems if not addressed promptly and correctly. To schedule your appointment, please call (480) 963-9000.

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