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Turf toe

Not a common term, granted, but one that became more widely known when NFL star Donte Jackson spoke of it, having suffered with the condition for a while.

American Football player

Turf toe occurs when the big toe’s main joint is sprained. Trauma—such as regularly pushing forward with the toe bent, as NFL players do during play—can cause long-term damage to the plantar complex, the toe’s support structure. If the toe is flexed too far too often, the ligaments can become stretched.

Sprinters often suffer from the same thing, as they forcibly push themselves off by their toes when starting a race. It’s seen more commonly in sports played on artificial turf, which is probably what led to its name. Dancers and basketball players can also suffer from the condition.

Inevitably, swelling and bruising occurs, and a good deal of pain. Though common solutions can help reduce the pain, such as cold compresses and plenty of rest, it may be that, in severe cases, surgery is needed to realign the toe and reintroduce support.

Donte Jackson tried all the different remedies, and he thought his toe had healed sufficiently enough for him to play again. However, as he was carried off on a stretcher during his comeback game, his face contorted in agony, it appeared he’d been too optimistic. He said, ‘You never really think about your big toe or how important that thing is until you can’t use it.’


Turf Toe affects up to 50 NFL players each year; it has even ended the careers of a few. It seems crazy when you picture American Football players, padded up to their eyeballs, like wide-shouldered giants on the field, having their playing days cut short by an injury to their big toes.

Fellow NFL star Jordan Reed was unlucky enough to suffer from turf toe on both his feet. He likened the excruciating condition to having a ‘constant toothache on the bottom of the foot’. He adds, ‘Every time you step—just like with a bad toothache when you touch it or eat something that irritates it—it sends that shock of pain through your entire body. Mentally, this injury really affects guys because it limits who they are. The pain you can deal with, but the fact that I wasn't the same athlete anymore and I would never be the same athlete anymore, that was really, really hard for me. That's how important the big toe is. It will make you a lot less quick and explosive and it will change your life as an athlete, and that's what it did to me.’

Though turf toe is usually the result of it repeatedly being unnaturally stretched (which is why sports stars and athletes are prone), the average Joe isn’t immune to the condition, which can occur from one sudden movement as well as continuous damage through a regular activity. If turf toe is diagnosed, rest is advised, to avoid straining the toe further; however, the toe has to bend for the individual to walk, and the healing process can be slow as a result…few people can afford to completely rest up for long periods of time.

A medical professional will typically diagnose the severity of the toe’s sprain and how badly the ligaments have been stretched; they will also gather information on the person’s job and lifestyle, to gauge what treatment should be given. Assuming RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) hasn’t seen the condition improve, the next step could involve the patient wearing a special boot to realign the big toe and support the ligaments, etc. as they heal. If this isn’t successful, doctors may suggest a cast to ensure the toe doesn’t move at all. As a last resort, surgery may be recommended.

If you think you may have turf toe, or you have any other type of pain in your feet, come along to one of our clinics for advice, support and possible treatment. Give our expert podiatrists a call on 01226 492412 (for our Wombwell clinic) or 0113 238 0330 (Morley clinic).


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