Turf Toe

Ray Lewis is the first of many athletes to suffer an injury that by its name would seem minor, but in fact it has led to the end of many professional athletes careers. This injury is referred to as ‘Turf Toe’, and can be quite debilitating.

Turf toe is a hyperextension of the big toe joint in an upward direction. When the big toe joint is extended towards the top of the foot over approximately 80° it starts to tear the attachments on the bottom of the joint. These attachments include ligaments, tendons and two bones called the sesamoids.  The tearing of these attachments causes severe pain in the joint and on the bottom of the foot. The slightest motion can become excruciating. In severe instances the joint becomes completely dislocated. In these instances often surgery is required to repair the damaged joint.

This injury has either ended or severely affected the careers of many professional athletes including: Deion Sanders, Jonathan Ogden, Shaquille O’Neal and many more. The most common sports for turf toe are football and soccer. The reason these sports are affected so much is that the athletes have to stop, plant their foot, and change to the opposite direction as quickly as possible. When the player puts their foot back they apply extreme amount of force to the first toe joint in an upward direction. They then use the big toe to push off and accelerate themselves in the other direction. This causes strains to the tendons and muscles, which weakens them.

When the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in 1987, tight end Mark Bavaro became known as one of the toughest players in football, a man capable of carrying tacklers on his back all the way to the end zone. It was a bittersweet season for Bavaro because he played with an agonizing ligament sprain of the metatarsophalangeal joint connecting the foot to the big toe, an injury more commonly known among football followers as turf toe.

After most games, Bavaro’s right big toe was so swollen and painful he could hardly stand up. Often he hopped to the training room to receive treatment. Day after day, for the final two months of the season, Bavaro put ice on the toe, kept it elevated and took the anti-inflammatory medication Ibuprofen, downing hundreds of milligrams of the stuff with each meal. Relief finally came after the Pro Bowl, when he underwent surgery to repair the two tiny fractured sesamoid bones in the ball of the foot.

Outside of surgery, the treatments for turf toe include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and strappings to immobilize the joint. Most players recover from this injury in 4 to 6 weeks. Ray Lewis is questionable to return Sunday.

Though I have discussed this injury in reference to professional athletes, it can also affect nonprofessionals. If it sounds like you could be affected by this injury. It would be advantageous for you to see a medical professional for treatment.