Turf Toe is not what most people think of when they hear it because you think it has something to do with playing on turf or a jammed toe. Instead this is an injury that is caused when the big toe hyper-extends, causing minor or severe injury to the joint capsule. Note: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Turf toe explained
Turf toe is the hyperextension of the big toe.
If you’ll remember, Deion Sanders had this injury really bad and had to have surgery.
It’s an injury that happens to faster athletes like wide-receivers and track sprinters. The way they take off running lends itself to injury. This does happen, but it’s not one of the top 10 common soccer injuries.
How to treat turf toe
To understand what it could feel like, take your index-finger and pull it back. Once you feel that stretch in the inside of your hand, you’ve now felt your body telling you where it happens and how.
Imagine hyper-extending your toe so badly that it pulls some of the bone off. This can take 3 – 6 months or more to recover 100%. It hurts under the ball of your foot and the side of our foot (bunion area).
Even though it’s called turf toe, it’s not your actual toe that hurts. To help prevent it, make sure you stretch the achilles tendon. The tendon connects to the bottom of the foot, which connects with the area where you hyper-extend the ball of your foot – causing this injury.
Why you should not ‘play through’ turf toe
I personally had this 2 times and both were bad. However, I did not need surgery.
One time in college I was just practicing and all of sudden felt like I hyper-extended my toe. I kept playing thinking it was one of those pains that just goes away within a few minutes or days. It took all Summer to get better and still wasn’t better by fall preseason.
The second time, I was playing pro and we were in a tournament in the Caribbean. We were playing in the CONCACAF Club Championship (Top 8 pro clubs in North, Central America and the Caribbean) & the field we played on was old school turf that had sand sprinkled on top.
The same as my first injury of turf toe; it wasn’t just a sudden pain of me knowing exactly when I hurt it. To this day I think it’s weird that such a long lasting pain wasn’t a sudden injury where I knew how it happened.
Causes of turf toe is due to playing on a bad surface (bumpy or slippery) or sudden sprinting.
When can a turf toe injury occur?
A turf toe injury can keep you out all off-season or all season depending on how severe it is. I think most people have probably had it very minor that lasted a day or two but this is nothing compared to when its more serious.
Playing on a bad surface can cause turf toe.
When to play & when not to play
Play on it if you’re in your competitive season of HS, College or Pro. IF it is the End of Season you can choose to play through the pain, but you would want to tape it before each practice and game.
Do not Play on it if its pre-season or off-season because this will not heal without REST. Nothing really to do but rest it and try to stay in shape doing different activities. (See Recommended Activities below)
Causes of turf toe
The two times I got turf toe was playing on a bumpy wet pitch in college off-season at West Texas A&M and the other was on a turf field in Curacao where, for some reason. they had sprinkled a light coat of sand on top of the field.
- Bad surface (Bumpy, Slippery)
- Sprinting on the take off and hyperextending the big toe too much
Symptoms of turf toe
A big tell-tale sign is come & go throbbing pain even when sitting or resting, especially after heavy activity like playing, running or lots of walking. When actually running or playing on it you experience the same pain but much more intense!
The pain can get so bad that you just can’t keep playing on it due to the pain, frustration and knowing that it’s getting worse all at the same time having a hard time running at your normal speed.
The pain is at the side & under the bunion, which is the big bone that joins your big toe and foot.
- Throbbing Pain that feels more like a dull burn
- Swelling around the Joint [Bunion]
- Bruising could appear depending on the severity
Some websites say there are 3 degrees but I will politely disagree with some of them because of the amount of time they say for each to recover. Some say that it could last a few days up to 2 months, but with my experience it took me 3+ months to feel better. Once it starts to finally feel better [after 3 months or so] you literally feel it getting stronger and feeling less pain.
Important tips regarding turf toe
A turf toe injury is not the same a ‘jammed’ or ‘stubbed’ or ‘bruised’ toe. If it doesn’t get better within a 2 weeks you should think about getting an MRI or X-Ray. If it shows no break than expect to be out for another 2 weeks up to 3+ months.
You can cast it or tape it during the first few weeks to help it heal and keep from getting irritated. My X-Ray showed some bone that got pulled off but did not require surgery.
Surgery is the last thing you want to do because you lose range of motion and speed.
3 Prevention steps
- Make sure you stretch out your calf and Achilles tendon because these will also help stretch the bottom of the foot and toe which will help prevent turf toe. The best way to stretch it is by stretching the calf & make sure you lift your heel up so that you’re on your toes more.
- Try to avoid playing on bad fields that are bumpy because stepping on uneven ground can make your toe hyperextend, causing turf toe.
- Balance exercises will help because when you just balance on one foot you can feel all the muscles in the foot and around it working hard, which is going to help protect injuries like turf toe or ankle injuries.
Recovery time for a turf toe injury
You are looking at 3 days if it’s just a minor sprain, which is more common. However, recovery can take up to 3 weeks or even up to 3+ months if you have a case of turf toe like you hear about on TV.
There are ways you can tape it up to keep it from bending back too much causing more irritation. I think in soccer it’s going to be mostly adults that get turf toe compared to the light weight youths.
Recommended Activities to stay fit while out of your sport
You want to stay in shape so choose activities that don’t require walking, running or jumping.
- Bike (Great Cardio)
- Swimming (Great Cardio)
- Elliptical (Great Cardio)
- Sit-ups & other core floor exercises
- Wall sits
- Lifting Weights with arms or legs as long as you don’t have to get up on your toes
- Arm Cycle
Stay away from these exercises while injured
- Change of Direction type activities because these put extra pressure on the toe, which will decrease your recovery time.
*NOTE: I am not advocating ignoring an injury. Always get professional care but this article is about ways to care for or prevent a turf toe injury.
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