Sprains, strains, stubs, and breaks, the toes can sustain a lot of injuries and insults. A sprained toe can sideline you from your sport or just make it challenging to get around. In this guide, learn how to recognize, treat, and heal a sprained toe, especially, learn options to heal the dreaded turf toe, the plague of many NFL players.
The foot has a complex anatomy which gives it strength, stability, and flexibility. Except for the big toe, each toe has the following three joints:
The big toe with only two bones has only a metatarsophalangeal joint and an interphalangeal joint.
The metatarsophalangeal joint is a complex joint that must balance stability with flexibility. An injury to this joint, such as a sprained toe, can be challenging to treat and to heal. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the ligaments, small bones, and fibrous tissues that make up the MTP joint are called the “plantar complex.” They include the following structures:
Toe sprains occur when ligaments in the toes have been overstretched or damaged. It is a common injury that results from stubbing the toe on the ground, getting the toe caught while walking, or hitting a nonyielding object with a kick. The pain, swelling, and bruising of a sprained toe can be difficult to differentiate from a toe fracture. A health care provider may order an x-ray or magnetic resolution imaging (MRI) to diagnose and treat a sprained toe correctly.
Sprains are classified by severity into the following:
The initial steps to treat and heal a sprained toe include the following:
Even more important than healing a sprained toe is preventing it in the first place. Exercise the feet to attain a good range of motion, strength, and stability. Wear supportive athletic shoes that have enough room in the toe box. Avoid kicking any nonyielding objects to prevent further injuries.
Turf toe is a sprain of the main joint in the big toe. It happens when the toe is hyperextended and there is an injury to any of the structures making up the plantar complex. Toe positions include the following:
According to Poppe et al., artificial turf is stiffer than grassy surfaces and does not have as much flex or give to it. As many as 45% of football players playing on artificial turf suffer from turf toe. Soccer, basketball, and wrestling participants may also suffer from turf toe.
“It’s not anything like Antonio’s injury,” Tomlinson said. “Antonio came out in a boot after the game. It’s not that bad. People don’t need to freak out.”LaDainian Tomlinson comments after his “turf toe” injury
The injury from turf toe can range from a stretching injury to full dislocation. Hyperextension of the big toe can lead to metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP) injuries. The forefoot sticking to the turf at the start of a sprint and an opponent landing on the heel while the toes are hyperextended can both lead to hyperextension injuries. Grading the soft tissue injuries are as follows:
A health care provider will examine the toe and stress the soft tissue structures supporting the toe to test the strength and stability of the plantar complex. The health care provider may request weight-bearing X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the injury fully. The treatment to ensure proper healing of a sprained toe differs from a bone fracture.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, your health care provider may recommend the following strategies to heal “turf” toe:
Diagnosing and treating turf toe early in the injury progression typically result in better outcomes. However, after healing from the acute injury resulting in a sprained or “turf” toe the following symptoms may persist:
A sprained toe is painful and can adversely affect your quality of life. Treatment options continue to increase. Seeking treatment quickly is more likely to lead to a speedy recovery. Invigor Medical, a US-based provider stands ready to help.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.