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Turf toe

Turf toe is a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe joint. These ligaments work mainly as a hinge to allow up and down motion. It's caused by jamming the big toe or repeatedly pushing off the big toe forcefully, like jumpers do or sprinters pushing off their blocks.

It is commonly seen in athletes involved in these sports:

Athletes using artificial surfaces are more prone to turf toe. It is also a common injury for dancers and those who practise martial arts.

Here's more information about turf toe - what causes it, how to prevent it and how it's treated.

What causes turf toe?

You can get turf toe if you are tackled or fall forward and your big toe stays flat or if you bend your big toe back beyond its normal limit, causing hyperextension of the toe. This hyperextension, with enough sudden force or repeated over time, can cause soft tissue damage and a sprain in the ligaments that surround the joint.

Exercising on harder, artificial surfaces can increase your chances of turf toe. However, it can also happen on grass, especially if your shoes don't provide enough support and are so flexible they let the foot bend too far forward.

What are the symptoms of turf toe?

If turf toe is caused by a repetitive injury, the symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time. If it's the result of a sudden forceful motion, the injury can be immediately painful and get worse over 24 hours. Sometimes, when the injury occurs, a 'pop' can be felt.

The most common symptoms of turf toe include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the ball of the foot and the big toe
  • Swelling and bruising in the ball of the foot and the big toe
  • Inability to push off on the big toe
  • Limited joint movement in the big toe
  • Inability to bear weight on the ball of the injured foot.

How is turf toe diagnosed?

You will need to explain as much as you can about your injury to your GP. You will be asked about how you injured your foot, your job, any sporting activities, the type of trainers or boots you wear and if you have a history of foot problems. The doctor will then examine your foot, noting the pattern and location of any swelling and bruising, looking at the range of movement in the joint and comparing the injured foot to the uninjured one.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays to rule out any other damage or fracture
  • A bone scan, CT scan or MRI scan may be required in certain circumstances.

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

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