Turf toe is a condition that affects a number of athletes in different sports, but you don’t need to be an athlete to be felled by the condition. Turf toe is the more common name for a sprain of the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), which is located where the big toe meets the foot. The sprain tends to happen when the big toe is forced backwards towards the top of your foot beyond its normal range of motion. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at how a sprain can affect this joint, and how physical therapy can help you come back stronger from a turf toe injury.
The Mechanics Of A Turf Toe Injury
We touched on the mechanics of turf toe injuries a little bit in the intro, but this type of sprain is pretty common in athletes that really push off of their feet to accelerate forward. As athletes push off during a sprint or as part of a dive, a person’s body weight gets shifted to the forefoot and the toes. If the joint gets overloaded when you push off as hard as you can, or if the toe gets bent in this direction as you’re getting brought down with a tackle, the joint can extend beyond its normal range of motion and become injured.
Aside from the joint itself, nearby structures like your ligaments, muscles and tendons can become injured, as can the small bones called sesamoids that sit underneath the big toe. All of these structures play a significant role in helping the MTP joint function properly, so injuries to all of these tissues need to be carefully treated in the wake of a turf toe injury in order to restore normal function.
Symptoms of a turf toe sprain include:
- Localized pain
- A popping sensation at the moment of injury
- Limited range of motion
- Increased pain when bearing weight
Treating Turf Toe Injuries With Physical Therapy
Turf toe injuries can range in significance, and they are often given a grade of one, two or three. A Grade I sprain is classified as mild joint disruption, Grade II involves moderate tissue tearing, and Grade III involves significant joint disruption and tearing. A physical therapist can help determine the extent of your turf toe sprain and the best way to help the joint recover. Your PT will do this through a visual and physical examination that will assess:
- The toe’s range of motion and function
- Swelling, bruising or discoloration
- Your ability to bear weight and walk on the injured toe
- Tissue damage with the help of imaging tests
Through this assessment, your physical therapist will be able to determine your best course of treatment. In many instances, physical therapy is prescribed alongside the standard RICE treatment, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Physical therapy will focus on a few key aspects of your recovery, which will involve:
- Targeted Muscle and Ligament Strengthening – Restabilizing the joint through careful exercise is a must after a turf toe injury.
- Gradual Pressure – Limited weight bearing can actually be more effective for bringing healthy blood to the injury site, so a physical therapist needs to ensure a weight bearing program is followed.
- Reestablish Range of Motion – Joint range of motion will need to be re-established with exercise and stretching techniques that progress over time.
- Return To Activity Guidelines – If your goal is to return to a certain sport or activity, your physical therapist will help develop a PT routine that accounts for the physical demands of the sport.
- Patient Education – Educating the patient on the best and worst things they can do during their recovery will help ensure rehab stays on track when they are not at the clinic.
So if you felt a popping sensation in your big toe recently and you’re struggling to walk normally or bear weight, know that you may be dealing with a turf toe injury that is best treated with the assistance of a physical therapist. To connect with one of our turf toe specialists, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today by calling (612) 339-2041.