If you participate in physical activities on hard, slick surfaces, you may someday find yourself with turf toe. Turf toe is an injury to the big toe’s main joint. This joint is called the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP).
A turf toe injury may also stretch or tear the ligaments and tendons surrounding the MTP joint. This area of the foot is called the plantar complex.
Turf toe tends to happen on firm, slick surfaces that don’t have any give underneath, such as the turf that football is played on, hence its name.
Turf toe taping is one of several conservative treatments that support healing of this injury.
When done correctly, toe taping restricts flexion, or the ability of the big toe to bend. This provides:
- pain relief
- protection of the toe and foot
Turf toe causes pain, swelling, and bruising, making it hard to stand or bear weight on your foot. In some instances, turf toe may also cause dislocation of the big toe, which may require surgery.
There are three grades of turf toe Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3:
- Grade 1 turf toe. The ligaments surrounding the MTP joint are stretched, but they don’t tear. Tenderness and slight swelling may occur. Mild pain may be felt.
- Grade 2 turf toe. Partial tearing occurs, causing swelling, bruising, pain, and decreased movement in the toe.
- Grade 3 turf toe. The plantar complex tears severely, causing the inability to move the toe, bruising, swelling, and pain.
Turf toe healing time
The more severe your turf toe injury, the longer it’ll take for complete healing to occur.
- Grade 1 injuries may resolve partially or fully within one week.
- Grade 2 injuries may take around 2 weeks to resolve.
- Grade 3 injuries may require anywhere from 2 to 6 months before healing is complete. Occasionally, a Grade 3 turf toe injury may require surgery.
How did this happen?
A turf toe injury occurs when the big toe hyperextends toward the foot, bending up and inward too far.
Picture a sprinting football player or ballerina dancing en pointe. These types of moves can lead to turf toe abruptly or over time.
Probably. There are very few clinical trials that have looked at turf toe taping’s effectiveness for this condition.
However, a review of literature on turf toe injury determined that all three severity levels, or grades, benefit from conservative treatments, including taping and the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method.
Wearing stiff-soled shoes or orthotics is also recommended.
There are several turf toe taping techniques. All of them are designed to hold the big toe rigidly in place and prevent the MTP joint from bending upward.
No matter which technique you use, make sure to tape your toe and foot firmly, but not with so much pressure that you cut off circulation.
The sooner you apply tape after the injury occurs, the better. You can use ice packs over the tape, as needed.
What kind of tape should I use for turf toe?
You should use rigid, cotton sports tape, such as zinc oxide tape. Zinc oxide tape is waterproof and doesn’t require scissors to cut.
It provides enough rigidity to keep an injury in position for long periods of time without having to change the bandage. The most common-sized tapes used for turf toe taping are 1 inch (2.5 cm) or 1 1/2 inch (3.8 cm).
To tape turf toe:
- Provide an anchor for the foot by circling the base of the big toe with one piece of tape. If you have a long toe, use two pieces of overlapping tape for added stability. Your big toe should be in a neutral position and not pointing up or down.
- Spread your toes. While keeping your toes in a slightly spread position, circle the arch of the foot with two pieces of overlapping tape. Steps one and two will complete the anchor.
- Connect the two sections of the anchor by adding two to three overlapping, vertical, support strips of tape from the middle of the foot to the base of the big toe.
- Lock the anchor into place by repeating steps one and two with additional tape.
- Once completed, your big toe should be unable to bend.
How to check blood flow
Make sure you haven’t made your bandage too tight by checking the blood flow to your toe. You can do this by pressing against the side of the taped toe.
The area you press against will turn white but should flush red in 2 or 3 seconds. If it doesn’t turn red with blood returning to the area, your bandage is too tightly wound and needs to be redone.
Your bandage may also be too tight if you have a throbbing sensation in your foot.
The tape can remain on until healing has occurred. If the tape loosens or becomes soiled, remove and reapply.
If your pain is severe or doesn’t abate with conservative treatment within 12 hours, call your doctor. You may have broken a bone or experienced an injury severe enough to require more aggressive treatment.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering turf toe taping:
Can I tape up my injury myself?
You can try, but you’ll probably get better results if you have someone else do it for you.
How can I prevent my tape from bunching up and sticking to itself while I try to apply it?
Using the right tape will help. Athletic tape, such as zinc oxide tape, is rigid. This makes it easier to maneuver and stick where you want it to. It also tears easily so you won’t have to use scissors to cut it.
How can I make a bandage that’s comfortable and not too restrictive?
Make sure you keep your toes slightly fanned out while you’re fashioning a bandage. This allows for the right amount of give when you stand.
- Ice. In addition to taping your injury, employ the R.I.C.E. technique for 1 to 2 days or longer, based on your doctor’s recommendation.
- NSAIDs. Taking over-the-counter medication for pain and inflammation will also help.
- Time. Give turf toe enough time to heal. Getting back to the playing field too quickly will worsen your injury, producing more downtime.
- Avoiding pressure. Use crutches as needed to keep weight off of the injured foot.
If you play sports or other activities on hard or slippery surfaces, it may be difficult to avoid the recurrence of a turf toe injury.
However, here are some tips that can help you prevent a recurring injury:
- Avoid wearing shoes with flexible soles that have a lot of give.
- Don’t work out bare feet.
- Footwear with cleats may make you more prone to injury since they grab the ground and can cause your toe to overextend.
- Wear shoes with hard soles that keep your toes in a neutral position.
- Continue to keep your foot supported with turf toe tape underneath hard-soled shoes until the injury has healed completely.
Turf toe is a common injury among athletes and dancers.
Turf toe taping is effective for stabilizing the toe and foot. Taping the injury is one of several conservative treatments you can use to help turf toe heal.
If you don’t see an improvement within 12 hours, call your doctor.