What Is Turf Toe and Why Do So Many Athletes Get It?

It sounds like an extremely minor injury, but it’s a painful one that can linger. Many athletes, especially those in the NFL, are diagnosed with turf toe, and oftentimes, it prevents them from getting on the field. Sometimes it keeps those NFL players out for weeks. What is turf toe and why do so many players get it?

Turf toe forced A.J. Green to miss much of the 2018 season

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During Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green suffered a toe injury that kept him out four weeks. Later in the season, he re-injured the toe against the Denver Broncos in Week 13 and was lost for the season. Green had a worst-case scenario of turf toe that eventually required surgery.

“Sometimes the plantar tissues can retract or pull back away from their normal position in a grade 3 turf toe injury,” said Dr. Dustin Schuett, according to USA Today. “This is the worst-case scenario and usually requires surgical repair. This is the surgery A.J. Green had on his toe last December. This surgery typically means a 12-week recovery minimum.”

Green was laid up for four months after the surgery. Other NFL wide receivers such as Davante Adams and Julio Jones, among others, have dealt with turf-toe issues. The Washington Football team’s running back Antonio Gibson has missed the two games with turf toe.

What is turf toe?

According to Dr. Dustin Schuett, an orthopedic surgeon based in San Diego, turf toe can be very painful and could result in a need for surgery. “Turf toe is an injury to the big toe on the plantar (bottom) side of the toe at the base where the metatarsal bone and the proximal (closest) phalanx of the big toe articulate,” Schuett said, according to USA Today. “This joint is called the metatarsophalangeal joint or MTP joint. 

 “When the big toe is forcibly dorsiflexed (pushed up towards the toenail; think of the position of the big toe for a sprinter getting ready to start a race), ligaments, tendons and joint capsule on the bottom of the MTP joint can be stretched and even torn.”

Schuett said turf-toe injuries are graded on a 1-3 scale. “Grade 1 injuries are a stretch injury of the plantar (bottom of the foot) structures with pain at one specific spot,” he said. “Players can sometimes get these taped and return to the same game. Rarely is significant time missed.” Grade 2 is a partial tearing of the planta structures, Schuett said. Grade 3 is a complete tear, noting that it’s very painful and the athlete will likely miss significant time.

What is the cause of it?

Although turf toe can happen anywhere, athletes who play on artificial turf are more likely to experience turf toe. According to Foot Health Facts, when playing sports on artificial turf, the foot can stick to the hard surface, resulting in jamming of the big toe joint. It’s also believed that that less-supportive flexible shoes worn on artificial turf are also to blame.

Foot Health Facts said turf toe usually results from excessive upward bending of the big toe joint. The condition can be caused from either jamming the toe or from repetitive injury when pushing off repeatedly when running or jumping. 

So for all you Fantasy Football owners, don’t bash your player for being sidelined with a toe injury. It’s a heck of a lot more painful than it sounds.