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.
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. I personally had turf toe twice, once while in college and the other pro.
Both injuries were from playing on a bad surface and neither time did I feel an instant pain in my foot. It was more like a pain that you think you just stretched the big toe back too far. As you play a bit more, you start to feel something is different and might be serious. I had a bad case but I know it wasn’t a worst case or degree because I didn’t need surgery and it ended up healing after 3-4 months.
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)
Deion Sanders & turf toe
Deion Sanders, the 2 sport star (Football & Baseball), had turf toe so bad that it required surgery. Deion could run faster than anyone and make big plays on both sides of the ball but later in his career he slowed down due to age and this injury. Surgery is the LAST thing you want to do because it limits the range of motion later and could cause you to lose speed.* Fast Athletes like Track & NFL Wide Receivers get this more than most other athletes because of the way they take off on a sprint.
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
Lunges, Sprints, Push-ups, Jumping, or 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.