strain toe

I Sprained My Toe, Now What?

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What is a sprained toe?

A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which is the tissue that connects bones together in joints. If you have a sprained toe, it means one of the ligaments in your toe is torn or stretched. A sprained toe is different from a broken toe, which is an injury to a bone, not a ligament.

With the exception of your big toe, each toe has three joints:

  • The metatarsophalangeal joint is where your toe meets your foot.
  • The proximal interphalangeal joint is in the middle of your toe.
  • The distal phalangeal joint is closest to the tip of your toe.

Your big toe only contains a metatarsophalangeal joint and an interphalangeal joint.

Any of the joints in your toes can be sprained. Read on to learn more about what a sprained toe feels like, how it’s treated, and how long you’ll need to recover.

Sprained toe symptoms can vary depending on the severity of your sprain.

The main symptoms are:

  • pain, often in the entire toe or even the area around it
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • trouble moving your toe
  • joint instability

You might also feel a pop or tear when the sprain happens, especially if it’s severe.

Toe sprains are caused by injuries resulting from trauma or hyperextension of your toe. Traumatic causes usually involve hitting your toe on something, such as a piece of furniture. Hyperextension refers to extending the joints in your toe beyond their natural range of motion. This can happen when your toe gets stuck on something while the rest of your foot keeps moving forward.

Anyone can sprain their toe, but athletes are often at a higher risk. For example, football players and other athletes are vulnerable to an injury called turf toe. This is a hyperextension injury of the big toe that’s often associated with artificial grass.

If you regularly play sports, make sure you wear the right footwear and make sure your shoes fit properly.

To diagnose a sprained toe, your doctor will start by asking about any movements that make the pain in your toe worse. Be sure to tell them what you think might have caused it. This can help your doctor pinpoint the site and extent of your sprain.

Next, your doctor may try to move your toe a bit. This will give them an idea of how severe the sprain is and whether or not your joint is still stable.

Based on your exam, they may also order some imaging tests. A foot X-ray will help to rule out any broken bones, while a foot MRI scan will show how damaged your ligament is.

Sprains are classified into grades based on how severe they are. Your doctor will determine if your sprain is:

  • Grade 1. Your ligament has some minor tearing, known as microtearing.
  • Grade 2. Your ligament is partially torn and you have mild joint instability.
  • Grade 3. Your ligament is severely or completely torn and you have significant joint instability.

Mild toe sprains might not require any treatment. In other cases, you may need to tape the injured toe to the toe next to it, known as buddy taping. This helps to protect your sprained toe and provide stability so your injured ligament can heal. You can use whatever kind of tape you have on hand or purchase specialized wraps on Amazon.

While taping works well for grade 1 sprains, grade 2 or grade 3 sprains might require wearing a walking boot to provide added protection and stability. You can purchase these on Amazon as well. Remember, it’s important to check with your doctor first to make sure you’re following the best treatment option for your injury.

Regardless of how severe your sprain is, follow these tips to reduce pain and swelling:

  • Rest your foot and toe as much as possible.
  • Apply a cold compress to your toe for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, for several days after the injury.
  • Elevate your foot when sitting or lying down.
  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory to help with the pain.
  • Wear shoes with a stiff sole or padding in the front to help protect your toe.

A sprained toe usually takes about three to six weeks to fully heal. The more severe your sprain is, the longer you’ll need to allow for recovery. Try to keep your toe taped for about four weeks, though your doctor can give you more specific guidelines.

As you recover, it’s important to avoid sports or strenuous activity. You can return to your previous activity level once you stop feeling any pain when walking or doing other activities. This often takes at least a few weeks.

If you’re still feeling pain after two months, make an appointment with your doctor to check for any other injuries.

Toe sprains can be painful and frustrating, especially if you’re an athlete. But most people make a full recovery within a few weeks without any long-term health problems. To avoid future complications, such as a misaligned joint, make sure to give your injured toe plenty of rest and follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations.

A sprained toe refers to a toe with a torn ligament. It’s not as severe as a break, which involves a bone injury, but it can still be quite painful. We’ll go over the symptoms of a broken toe, the kinds of injuries that cause it, how it’s treated, and how long you can expect the healing process to take.

Turf Toe: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

In this Article

In this Article
In this Article
  • What Are the Symptoms of Turf Toe?
  • What Causes Turf Toe?
  • How Is Turf Toe Diagnosed?
  • How Is Turf Toe Treated?
  • Can Turf Toe Be Prevented?

Turf toe is not a term you want to use when talking to a head football coach about their star running back or the ballerina before their diva debut. “Turf toe” is the common term used to describe a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe joint. Although it’s commonly associated with football players who play on artificial turf, it affects athletes in other sports including soccer, basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, and dance. It’s a condition that’s caused by jamming the big toe or repeatedly pushing off the big toe forcefully as in running and jumping.

Here is information about turf toe — what causes it, how to prevent it, and how it’s treated — to help you stay in the game.

What Are the Symptoms of Turf Toe?

The most common symptoms of turf toe include pain, swelling, and limited joint movement at the base of one big toe. The symptoms develop slowly and gradually get worse over time if it’s caused by repetitive injury. If it’s caused by a sudden forceful motion, the injury can be painful immediately and worsen within 24 hours. Sometimes when the injury occurs, a “pop” can be felt. Usually the entire joint is involved, and toe movement is limited.

What Causes Turf Toe?

Turf toe is a sprain to the ligaments around the big toe joint, which works primarily as a hinge to permit up and down motion. Just behind the big toe joint in the ball of your foot are two pea-shaped bones embedded in the tendon that moves your big toe called sesamoids. These bones work like a pulley for the tendon and provide leverage when you walk or run. They also absorb the weight that presses on the ball of the foot.

When you are walking or running, you start each subsequent step by raising your heel and letting your body weight come forward onto the ball of your foot. At a certain point you propel yourself forward by “pushing off” of your big toe and allowing your weight to shift to the other foot. If the toe for some reason stays flat on the ground and doesn’t lift to push off, you run the risk of suddenly injuring the area around the joint. Or if you are tackled or fall forward and the toe stays flat, the effect is the same as if you were sitting and bending your big toe back by hand beyond its normal limit, causing hyperextension of the toe. That hyperextension, repeated over time or with enough sudden force, can — cause a sprain in the ligaments that surround the joint.

Typically with turf toe, the injury is sudden. It is most commonly seen in athletes playing on artificial surfaces, which are harder than grass surfaces and to which cleats are more likely to stick. It can also happen on a grass surface, especially if the shoe being worn doesn’t provide adequate support for the foot. Often the injury occurs in athletes wearing flexible soccer-style shoes that let the foot bend too far forward.


How Is Turf Toe Diagnosed?

To diagnose turf toe, the doctor will ask you to explain as much as you can about how you injured your foot and may ask you about your occupation, your participation in sports, the type of shoes you wear, and your history of foot problems. The doctor will then examine your foot, noting the pattern and location of any swelling and comparing the injured foot to the uninjured one. The doctor will likely ask for an X-ray to rule out any other damage or fracture. In certain circumstances, the doctor may ask for other imaging tests such as a bone scan, CT scan, or MRI.

The diagnosis will then be made based on the results of the physical examination and imaging tests.

How Is Turf Toe Treated?

The basic treatment for treating turf toe, initially, is a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (remember the acronym R.I.C.E).This basic treatment approach is to give the injury ample time to heal, which means the foot will need to be rested and the joint protected from further injury. The doctor may recommend an over-the-counter oral medication such as ibuprofen to control pain and reduce inflammation. To rest the toe, the doctor may tape or strap it to the toe next to it to relieve the stress on it. Another way to protect the joint is to immobilize the foot in a cast or special walking boot that keeps it from moving. The doctor may also ask you to use crutches so that no weight is placed on the injured joint. In severe cases, an orthopaedic surgeon may suggest a surgical intervention.

It typically takes two to three weeks for the pain to subside. After the immobilization of the joint ends, some patients require physical therapy in order to re-establish range of motion, strength, and conditioning of the injured toe.

Can Turf Toe Be Prevented?

One goal of treatment should be to evaluate why the injury occurred and to take steps to keep it from recurring.

One way to prevent turf toe is to wear shoes with better support to help keep the toe joint from excessive bending and force with pushing off. You may also want to consider using specially designed inserts that your doctor or physical therapist can prescribe for you.

A physical therapist or a specialist in sports medicine can also work with you on correcting any problems in your gait that can lead to injury and on developing training techniques to help reduce the chance of injury.

Sources (American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons): “Sesamoid Injuries in the Foot and Turf Toe.” “Foot Sprain.” “Foot Problems.”

American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine: “What Is ‘Turf Toe’ and How Should It Be treated?”

Turf toe is a sprain to the main joint of the big toe usually incurred during sports activities that is extremely painful. Learn more and the symptoms and treatment of turf toe at WebMD.