For all of the great benefits that come with using a synthetic turf surface on football fields, it’s perhaps inevitable that there are also going to be the introduction of new injuries that would occur less frequently on a natural grass surface.

The injury in question occurs to football players and has been given the name turf toe which is the unofficial term given to a sprained hallux metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. It is a relatively common complaint that you can class more as a nuisance rather than a serious injury. Even though it’s linked to synthetic grass surfaces, players can suffer turf toe on grass or any other firm surface.

So, what is turf toe?

Turf toe is the pain experienced at the base of the big toe around the ball of the foot caused by jamming the toe into the synthetic turf surface when running or jumping. It can also come from repeated pushing off of the ground. The tissue inside the big toe may be stretched in unnatural ways from either stubbing the toe against a surface, hyper-flexing it (over-curling it toward the sole of your foot), or hyper-extending it (jamming it back towards your body). What is actually happening is that tearing occurs to the capsule that surrounds the joint at the base of the toe. This may lead to instability and perhaps dislocation of the joint in the short term and accelerated cartilage wear and arthritis over the longer term.

The wrenching motions cause inflammation—swelling and stiffness—of the joint where the toe attaches to the rest of the foot, leading to difficulty moving the toe. Treating turf toe usually involves treating the inflammation by icing the injury or treating it with ultrasound—which stimulates the tissue and causes increased blood flow to the area to speed healing. It may be necessary to rest the injury for up to three weeks in order to allow the injured capsule time to heal properly.

Turf toe can be mainly attributed to any one of a number of factors, not purely to the fact that the sport or activity was taking place on synthetic grass.

The type of footwear being worn at the time may also play a part with the trend of more flexible, soccer-style shoes taking the place of the traditional shoe that contained a metal plate in the sole. Further developments have seen increasingly lighter shoes designed specifically for artificial grass to allow the wearer greater speed at the cost of stability. Athletes wearing the lighter footwear are more prone to injury than those wearing the older-style, less flexible shoes.

Some athletes may be more predisposed to succumbing to turf toe due to their natural ankle range of motion. The chances of sustaining a turf toe injury may also be dependent on the player’s age, weight and even experience in the game they are playing.

To protect against re-aggravating the injury, wearing firmer shoes or putting a thin, steel plate in the bottom of the shoe to take some of the flexibility out of the tip of the shoe will help.

Turf toe isn’t all that different from jamming your finger. In the latter case, you normally just tape the sprained finger to the one next to it and go on with your day. What makes turf toe so much more of a pain is that it bothers you with every step you take.

It should be repeated that, although turf toe is more commonly seen in athletes playing on synthetic grass surfaces, the problem is not restricted purely to artificial grass. People participating in heavy contact sports will be in danger of sustaining this type of injury no matter what the surface.

Related Posts – Synthetic Grass Injuries – Turf Burn