The Super Bowl was last week, and if you follow the sport, you might have heard that one of the players who didn’t quite make it to the big game, Patrick Mahomes, will need to have surgery for turf toe in the offseason. It’s one of those injuries that doesn’t sound bad, but it can actually be quite painful, even debilitating. Many people associate the injury with football, but the injury can happen to anyone in almost any sport, or even just walking around the house.
Orthoinfo defines turf toe as “a sprain of the main joint of the big toe,” and adds, “The injury happens when the toe is forcibly bent up into hyperextension, such as when pushing off into a sprint and having the toe get stuck flat on the ground.” That’s a pretty good description. It’s possible to hyperextend the toe playing any number of sports, jogging, or even tripping while carrying a load of laundry up the stairs.
The injury became associated with college and professional football with the rise in popularity of artificial turf in the 1970s and onward. Artificial turf doesn’t have the same give as natural grass with soil underneath, and turf toe injuries became more common in football. It’s also quite common in soccer, even at youth and recreational levels. Players miss-kick balls and may extend the toe in an unnatural way. If you’ve ever experienced turf toe, you know it can be quite painful and take a long time to heal.
Fortunately, as the Cleveland Clinic points out, most turf toe injuries do not require surgery. Rest, ice, and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen will allow most turf toe injuries. If you have extreme pain around the joint of the toe, it’s not time to panic, but it’s definitely worth getting checked out.