Turf toe is a sprain of the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP joint) caused by hyperextension of the big toe. It is most common among high-impact sports with soccer players, rugby players, and football players and can lead to chronic toe or foot pain. If you’ve developed turf toe, exercises will vary with each stage of the recovery process; which typically starts with a period of immobilization for the joint of the big toe. As tissues heal and symptoms decrease, you will focus on increasing range of motion, strength, and lastly restoring power. Check out exercises for each stage of recovery below.
The primary goal immediately after a turf toe injury is to allow proper rest while minimizing loss of function. This means managing symptoms at home like swelling and pain. (/blogs/resources/treating-turf-toe) Additionally, performing these gentle exercises can help promote circulation and keep the toes limber and strong.
Also great for the plantar fascia, this exercise works the muscles in the bottom of the toes and feet. Thus, it’s important to start gently and only move within a range that doesn’t aggravate your pain. With time, the range and ease of coordination will improve.
This gentle toe exercise keeps your toes moving to minimize unnecessary stiffness. It is also a very low-impact way to keep the muscles in the feet and toes working without risk of injury. As always, don’t force the range if you experience pain.
Keeping the foot strong, particularly the arch, is important for preserving foot function. This will help immensely as you transition to more dynamic exercises and power moves too.
A foot injury of any type can leave your ankle, toes, and entire foot feeling stiff. When mobility is limited, it affects the dynamic of the foot with everyday movement and sports. Ultimately, this can make the entire lower chain (aka the legs) more prone to injury.
This stretch should be initiated with caution since you will be directly stretching the injured tissues in the bottom of the big toe. However, gentle stretching will be beneficial for keeping the tissue supple and adequately mobile.
This combination takes an extra moment to coordinate. However, once you have it figured out it is a great stretch for the tendons of the toe flexors and extensors to keep the tendons moving smoothly and reduce any stiffness in the foot.
A standard calf stretch can help keep the tissues of the ankle and foot balanced for daily activities. Plus, a stiff calf can aggravate a toe injury without addressing it properly.
As your toe begins to heal, your focus will shift from stretching to more dynamic foot-specific strengthening. These exercises are designed to prepare your foot for higher-level weight-bearing activities.
Grab a light resistance band to get started with this one. You can always progress your resistance with time with a heavier band. This exercise will work the muscles directly in the bottom of the foot so proceed with caution initially.
This exercise helps build dynamic strength in the foot. Spreading the toes is easier for some people than others, so simply focus on doing your best even if the movement is minimal.
There are many other great toe coordination exercises that you can try too, such as big toe extension or abduction.
Transitioning to heels raises is an important last step before getting back to more sport-specific moves. This is because you need the stability and coordination to be able to lift your heels and push through the ball of your foot, just like you do with walking, running, jumping, and more.
The last step in recovery is preparing your foot for the reality of your sport. If you skip this last step, it puts you at a significantly higher risk for reinjury. Thus, it’s important to imitate and practice moves that will provide excellent control and carry over for your actual sport.
Every time we take a step, whether running or walking, we are essentially doing a single leg calf raise. Being able to properly coordinate this will provide your lower body the power it needs to propel itself forward.
Being able to push off and accept weight through the midfoot is an essential part of being able to accommodate the stresses of sports. This is of particular importance with activities that require pivoting and sudden changes in direction on artificial turf.
A lunge is a very functional movement that requires adequate big toe range of motion, strength, and coordination. Start with a basic lunge and then build to more dynamic foot movement from there.
When you’re ready, hold your lunge at the bottom and try lifting your front heel up and down from the ground.
If you allow proper healing time and follow the steps recommended by your orthopedic doctor or doctor of physical therapy (DPT), turf toe rehab is pretty straightforward. To expedite your recovery, keep these simple tips in mind.
Never force a stretch or movement that feels unstable or poorly controlled to protect your foot’s ligaments and the big toe joint capsule
Use other treatment modalities to manage your symptoms such as ice, heat, and soft-tissue foot massage as needed for pain relief
Assess the quality of your shoes and consider additional support from shoe inserts, orthotics, or foot taping techniques
Always follow the guidelines for return to your sport set by your doctor and/or physical therapist for your toe joint sprain
Make sure you don’t skip the last step of recovery with sport-specific moves to reduce the risk of further injury and adequately prepare your foot to prepare for athletic activity
If you’re ever feeling unsure about what treatment program is best for you, it’s always best to chat with your physical therapist. They can help give you clarity and personalized recommendations for optimal healing potential. Particularly, if your symptoms suddenly get worse or aren’t getting better over the course of a few weeks with treatment, make sure to bring this to your doctor or physical therapist’s attention immediately for further medical advice and appropriate adjustments to your toe injury program.
Sources:Turf Toe Products
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