Dr. thomas mcdonald patient after foot and ankle surgery

What Is Turf Toe And How Is It Treated?

Turf toe is a medical condition involving a sprain to the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint in your big toe. The condition earned the moniker “turf toe” in the 1970s as it became more common in athletes competing on artificial turf. Like all sprains, you can suffer different degrees or grades of a turf toe injury, and the significance of the sprain will dictate your treatment course. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at the different grades of turf toe injuries and we discuss how Dr. McDonald can help you treat the condition.

Turf Toe Grades

Before we dive into how turf toe injuries are diagnosed, let’s take a closer look at the MTP joint in our big toe. Your metatarsophalangeal joint connects your first metatarsal bone with the first phalanx bone in your big toe. It rests at the base of your big toe and provides critical support during most normal movements, like walking, running or jumping. If the ligaments or tendon that help hold this joint in place are hyperextended, overstretched or torn, a turf toe injury can develop. Quick changes of direction, forceful push-off movements or repetitive strain on the big toe can all lead to soft tissues damage in the joint.

In most cases, turf toe injuries are separated into three different grades:

  • Grade 1 – A Grade 1 turf toe injury involves minor stretching of the soft tissues within the plantar complex. Symptoms of pain and swelling are often mild, and most flexibility is retained in the big toe.
  • Grade 2 – A Grade 2 turf toe injury involves moderate tearing of the soft tissues that support the plantar complex. Pain and swelling are more significant, as is loss in range of motion of the big toe.
  • Grade 3 – A Grade 3 turf toe injury involves a complete tear of one or more of the soft tissues that support the MTP joint. Pain, tenderness and swelling are significant, and movement is extremely limited and uncomfortable.

Diagnosing And Treating Turf Toe

Diagnosing a turf toe injury is pretty straight forward. Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms, how the problem developed and they’ll assess the toe in person with a physical exam. Pain, swelling, tenderness and limited range of motion will be pretty evident during this conversation and evaluation, but your provider may still opt to confirm the significance of the injury with an imaging test. An x-ray can look for injuries to the bones in the area, while an MRI can better showcase the extent of the damage to the soft tissues in the MTP joint

As we mentioned above, treatment will depend on the significance of your turf toe injury. For more mild or moderate turf toe injuries, your doctor will likely begin with a course of conservative treatment. Rest will help protect the area from further damage while ice, compression and elevation can also help you manage discomfort. Eventually, you may be told to pursue gentle stretching or physical therapy techniques to strengthen the injured ligaments, as this will help prevent a recurrence in the future. Many patients can overcome these less serious turf toe injuries within 2-6 weeks.

If your symptoms persist or you’re dealing with a severe turf toe injury, your foot specialist may recommend surgery. Surgery for turf toe is rare, but it is effective. Your doctor will work to support and stabilize the MTP joint so that healing can run its course. Many patients can be back to athletic activities within 2-6 months of turf toe surgery.

So if you are dealing with pain or discomfort at the base of your big toe joint, especially after athletic activity or high energy trauma to the foot area, consider reaching out to Dr. McDonald and his team for an assessment. He can help you understand what you’re up against and the best way to get you back to walking without pain in short order. For more information about turf toe injuries, or to talk with Dr. McDonald about a different foot or ankle condition, reach out to his office today at (860) 244-8889.

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