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Turf Toe Treatment

How to Treat Turf Toe: Healing a Sprained Big Toe?

Aug 24, 2022

Metatarsophalangeal joint sprain or turf toe is an injury during which the ligament underneath your big toe (plantar plate) is forcibly stretched and hyperextends your metatarsophalangeal joint. This is a sprain, partial tear, or complete tear of your big toe’s big joint. This can be quite painful and the recovery (both time and healing method) may be vastly different across different cases.

In order to answer how to treat turf toe, it’s important that we explain three different injury grades of turf toe.

  • Grade 1: Sprain of the plantar plate.
  • Grade 2: Partial tear of the plantar plate.
  • Grade 3: Complete tear of the plantar plate.

These three injuries are treated completely differently, seeing as how their seriousness greatly differs, as well.

With all of this in mind and without further ado, here are some things you need to know about healing a sprained big toe.

How Do You Get Turf Toe?

The background and history of this diagnosis are quite interesting, however, there are practical aspects of diagnosing and dealing with turf toe. The first question asked is usually, how do you get turf toe?

The most common reason why you get turf toe is because of a specific position of the foot where you have your toe planted on the ground and heel raised. The force is applied in a way that will make the foot angle upward (more than it was designed to) causing the plantar plate to become injured. To give you a practical example, if you’re pushing off from a sprint and your toe slips on something, you’re in a scenario that could realistically result in a sprained big toe.

This also helps you identify the most common risk group – athletes. While, in theory, this could happen to anyone, the fact that it requires a specific position of the foot followed by an intense movement makes it pretty clear who’s in danger the most.

What Are Turf Toe Symptoms?

The diagnosis of a turf toe is quite simple. It starts with you going to a professional, ideally one specializing in foot and ankle surgery.

The doctor will proceed to ask you a number of questions. First, they’ll note your symptoms and examine your toe. Some of the most common turf toe symptoms are:

  • Pain in the front foot
  • Soreness to the touch
  • Bruising in the front of the foot
  • Swelling in the front of the foot
  • Inability to bend the big toe
  • A loose toe joint (dislocated)
  • Inability to put weight on your toe

These symptoms are almost always present together. Now, if the big toe is the source of the majority of your troubles (regardless if you notice bruising or swelling first), chances are that you have a turf toe. Before you proceed to devise a plan on how to treat turf toe with your doctor, they’ll have a couple more questions to ask.

Other than just looking at the symptoms, the doctor will also be interested in the way in which you noticed the injury. They will also ask about your daily activity and previous medical problems.

The doctor may also order an X-ray and an MRI in order to get a better look at the bones and the plantar plate. In case of grade 2 or grade 3 injury, this will be essential in assessing the damage. Once again, even though a general practitioner may have a basic understanding of what is turf toe, it’s essential that you go to a foot and ankle expert.

Turf Toe Treatment

Depending on the severity of your injury, the doctor may either allow you to try and treat yourself at home (using a “RICE” treatment method - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) or add an orthotic to your athletic shoe. If the latter is the case, and it’s established after an X-Ray and an MRI that it’s a grade 2 or grade 3 injury, you’re likely going to need some physical therapy.

Surgery is an option only in the case of severe tears, laxity, certain fractures, or cartilage damage.

Turf toe treatment at home

There are quite a few things you can do at home in order to treat the injury. You need to take a break from the activity that caused an injury.

For instance, while you may want to keep walking, taking a break from running (especially sprinting) and skipping rope is a must. If you absolutely have to keep up with your cardio routine while recovering, cycling might be the least painful of options (even though a complete rest would be advised).

As far as the rest of the treatments you can use at home, you can apply a cold pack to your toe for 20 minutes at a time, at least 3-4 times per day. You can also use elastic compression in order to prevent additional swelling. Elevating your leg is also known to limit swelling.

If the pain gets too much, you might want to consider over-the-counter pain medicine as a solution.

Lastly, at-home treatment is only for grade 1 injuries. If you’re dealing with grade 2 and grade 3 injuries, you’ll probably need some extra help.

Turf toe taping

The best home-based technique for treating turf toe is to tape it with 1- and 2-inch athletic tape. In order to increase the effectiveness, you might want to spray adhesive on the skin. It’s also important to use the right technique. Finding a demonstration online is quite easy, just make sure to look at the credentials of the person conducting a tutorial. Even better, ask your physician to explain, show, or provide you with an example.

Adequate footwear

Hard sole shoes with arch support can be quite useful when it comes to decreasing the pressure on the ball of your foot. This is far more comfortable than walking barefoot across the room but even then, you might need extra pads. Keep in mind that the more comfortable you are, the better you’ll be able to heal.

Turf toe recovery time

The rate of the injury depends on the severity of the injury. For instance:

  • Grade 1: May heal partially or even fully within one week.
  • Grade 2: Can take as much as 2 weeks to resolve.
  • Grade 3: It will take as much as 2 to 6 months to fully heal.

Keep in mind that these recovery times only hold true if you follow the recovery plan.

Wrap Up

While it’s essential to diagnose it first, recognizing the turf toe is quite easy. If your big toe is swollen, bruised, sore, and painful, the chances are that this is it. As far as the question of how to treat turf toe, it depends on the grade of the injury. Make sure to talk to an orthopedic surgeon of your choice to get the right diagnosis and treatment.

When left untreated, a turf toe injury can cause a number of problems in other parts of the body. Act fast and seek out the assistance of an expert foot surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute of NJ.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.