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Turf Toe: A Painful Sprain of the Big Toe

Monday Night Football on December 7th became Monday Nightmare Football for Antonio Gibson. The rookie running back for the Washington Football Team suffered a turf toe injury early in the game against the Steelers.

Turf toe is common in football. If you were to open your favorite search bar and type in “turf toe football,” you’d get way more hits than you can count – stories of players over the years who damaged their big toe in a big way. What is turf toe, and why is it so common among football players – especially running backs like Gibson?

What is turf toe and how does it happen?

  • Turf toe is a sprain of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint – the joint at the base of the big toe. If you force the toe to bend too far, the ligaments surrounding the MTP joint stretch beyond their limit. If they stretch far enough, they can tear. Depending on how badly the ligaments are damaged, a turf toe injury can put you out of commission for up to six weeks. In the worst cases, surgery may be necessary; for example, you might jam your toe into the ground with so much force that you knock the sesamoid bones out of place.
  • Gibson’s injury is an example of an acute injury – it happened suddenly on a tackle. But turf toe can also come on gradually because of overuse and overstrain on the MTP joint. That’s why we see this type of injury not only with athletes who play on artificial turf but also with dancers, soccer players, wrestlers, and anyone else who frequently plants, pushes off, dodges, cuts, and pivots their feet.

Dr. Kenneth R. Wilhelm is our board-certified podiatrist and podiatric surgeon here at Clifton Foot & Ankle Center. He provides excellent care for patients in Fairfax County with turf toe and other painful toe injuries. If you have symptoms of turf toe, including swelling, bruising, instability, stiffness, and limited movement of the big toe, or a “popping” sound at the moment of acute injury, contact us online or call our office in Centreville, Virginia, at (703) 996-3000 for an appointment.

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