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Turf Toe


What is Turf Toe?                                      

Turf toe is named after the “most common” place that the condition occurs, on artificial turf a surface that is hard and that entertains a lot of running, jumping which involves the big (the captain of all the toes). Essentially the condition “turf toe” is a jammed big toe joint that is inflamed and painful and without proper treatment can become stiff and loose necessary motion for running, jumping and pushing off from a three point stance. Turf toe tends to continue worsening the more the toe is pushed beyond its range of motion abilities. If the toe is jammed and you try to exert tremendous pressures on the joint by continuing to run or jump then the inflammation continues and arthritis will eventually set in.

Most people that develop turf toe are those that already have a problem with foot biomechanics. To the trained professional, it is easy to identify those that are susceptible to developing turf toe. You see turf toe, as well as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis and Bunions (Abducto Hallux Valgus) are predisposed by another condition called Functional Hallux Limitus (FHL) which translated means that the big toe doesn’t bend like it should when weight bearing.


So What Does My Big Toe Not Bending Have to do With Turf Toe?

If the big toe doesn’t bend when you walk and run, you loose a very important biomechanical function of the foot called the Windlass Effect. When the big toe bends normally it triggers a whole chain of events:

  • The plantar fascia (the tissue on the bottom of the foot) tightens up and draws the toes closer to the middle part of the foot (metatarsal heads)

  • The mid-foot is lifted up off the ground and releases the pressure on the lateral 4 toes. If the big toe doesn’t bend properly and the middle part of the foot doesn’t lift up, the toes jam into the metatarsals

  • This loss of motion and jamming effect can lead to continued degeneration in the big toe joint, inflammation and tears in the plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis) and the tight plantar fascia pulls on the heel bone and creates a heel spur (Calcaneal Heel Spur) and other problems throughout the skeletal system due to improper biomechanics.

So you can see that when a person that has a toe that doesn’t bend properly and has FHL (Functional Hallux Limitus which literally means “big toe that doesn’t bend”) even prior to athletic participation they are predisposed to four major foot conditions.

The most common treatment by athletic trainers and medical professionals is to ice the joint to reduce inflammation and pain, tape the toe and provide a very stiff shoe (even metal insole) so that the toe doesn’t move very much thereby reducing pain. This philosophy of treatment is appropriate in the first stages of the injury, especially if there is damage to the capsule that surrounds the big toe joint, however soon after the initial protection stage it is very important for the big toe to resume normal motion as quickly as possible. If you reduce the ability of the big toe to move, the performance of the athlete suffers and promotes improper biomechanics in the toe, the ankle, the knee, the hip, the spine and the entire chain of motion throughout the body. The big toe must be allowed to move properly in order for the athlete to perform at optimum efficiency.

So Why is My Big Toe So Important?

The big toe has been called many names… the captain of the toes, the little piggy that goes to market, but I like to call the big toe the King of the Toes because our bodies normal biomechanics depend on his ability to move and bend correctly as his motion is responsible for a whole chain of events that occur in the foot, the knee and on up the body clear up to the skull. Here’s how….

When you step down on your foot, the arch in your foot acts as a shock absorber by collapsing in a controlled manner until the foot is relatively flat. Then as you start to push off, the King Toe bends and it causes the arch in your foot to be re-established and your leg to start turning outward so you can take the next step.

So What Do I Do If My Toe Doesn’t Bend Well?

It is important to have your toe motion evaluated by a person who understands the concepts discussed here. Many might think a Podiatrist or Orthopedist might be able to help, but it’s my recommendation that you contact a Doctor that has been specially trained in the proper diagnostic and treatment methods for this condition and that would be a Chiropractor that has specially trained by the Council on Extremity Adjusting. You can find a list of these specially trained Doctors here: Foot Specialists. They are found throughout the country and the list of specialists is growing each day.

Many people have big toes that are stiff, hurt or don’t move very well and have FHL. If you watch them walk they will move their foot outward and push off with the inside of their toe instead of keeping their foot straight and pushing off with the bottom of the toe because their toe won’t bend.



Top 4 Things That Help Turf Toe

4. Wear appropriate shoes with arch supports that promote proper toe movement

3. Re-establish normal big toe motion by seeking treatment by a trained professional.

2. Big Toe Supports | Taping

1. After ruling out fracture, it is important to reduce inflammation of the big toe by applying ice packs or anti-inflammatories to the big toe joint for 3-5 minutes once every hour for the first 12 hours, then 2-3 x’s per day for 2-3 days or until pain has dissipated.

By mobilizing the big toe through proper techniques and supporting the arch with the proper orthotic support that is specially made to accommodate for these types of injuries and restore the motion of the big toe and re-establishing the windlass effect (the restoration of normal supination and external leg rotation) the athlete’s performance can be optimal.


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