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Physical Therapy for Turf Toe – Information, Exercises, and More

If you play football, soccer, or rugby, you’re likely no stranger to turf toe. 

The pain can be excruciating and can keep you off the field and on the bench. 

In this guide, we’ll go over the causes and symptoms of turf toe and whether physical therapy for turf toe can help get you back in the game.


What Is Turf Toe?

Turf toe is the common name for a sprained metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint.

Your MTP joint can be found where your metatarsal, the first long, straight bone in your foot, attaches to the phalange, the first short bone in your big toe. 

These joints enable your toe to move in both upward and downward motions. 

Your big toe is vital for your ability to walk and run. When you put your foot on the ground to take a step, your big toe is the last joint your foot uses as it pushes off to propel your body forward.

Your MTP joint and surrounding foot may be injured, including:

  • Ligaments
  • Muscle tendons; or
  • The sesamoid bones (small bones under your big toe)

What Causes Turf Toe?

Turf toe occurs when your big toe is forced back past its normal range of motion toward the top of your foot. Typically, the front of your foot is fixed in place and then jammed into the ground, forcing your big toe to hyperextend too far backward.

A turf toe injury may also include a:

  • Subluxation — When one of the bones in the MTP joint slips out of place, but comes back to its normal position; or 
  • Dislocation — When the two bones of the NTP joint are completely separate

This injury is most common in athletes, especially people who play football, soccer, or rugby, or those who are involved in any sport that requires jumping. 

A turf toe injury rarely requires surgery. 

Turf Toe Symptoms

The symptoms most commonly associated with turf toe include: 

  • A “popping” feeling at or around your MTP joint 
  • Pain at the MTP joint
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness to the touch; and
  • Cramping in the arch of your foot

In a severe turf toe injury, the MTP may become dislocated, causing disfigurement of the joint. 

Turf Toe Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?


Physical therapy for turf toe can help heal your injury by providing: 

  • Range of motion exercises
  • Strengthening of the muscles around the MTP joint
  • Manual therapy to increase range of motion; and
  • Patient education to prevent re-injury


4 Turf Toe Treatments

#1: Range of Motion Exercises

Following a turf toe injury, your motion may be limited, especially if you require immobilization in a brace or boot. It’s critical that you regain the full range of motion of your big toe. 

Your physical therapist will teach you some gentle range of motion stretching exercises to help you regain the use of your injured MTP joint.

#2: Muscle Strengthening

In a turf toe injury, it’s common to lose muscle strength in your leg, particularly around your foot and ankle. This is usually due to your limited ability to perform weight-bearing activities. 

Your physical therapist will identify any weak muscles and teach you specific exercises to rebuild strength that may include: 

  • The use of resistance bands
  • Balancing activities; and 
  • Functional activities, like standing from a seated position and climbing stairs

#3: Manual Therapy

Your physical therapist may use manual therapy to gently move and manipulate your affected muscles and joints to help them regain motion and strength. 

This can be especially effective for joints that have become stiff following immobilization during recovery, like your big toe and other joints of your foot and ankle.

#4: Patient Education

Patient education is a huge factor in recovery from a turf toe injury. 

Your physical therapist will educate you on what you should and shouldn’t do following your injury to ensure a smooth recovery. They’ll work with you to develop an individualized treatment program and goals to give you a roadmap for your return to normal activity.

Best Exercises for Turf Toe

Toe Curls

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. The soles of your feet should be facing forward, with your heels resting at a natural angle on the ground.
  2. Bend your toes forward, extending your big toe as far as possible.
  3. Next, reverse the direction, moving your toes back towards your legs.

Stop the exercise if you experience pain at any point.

Resistance Band Toe Stretches

  1. Sit in a chair with your injured leg in front of you and your knee bent in a way that allows you to draw your foot within arm’s reach.
  2. Wrap a resistance band around your toes and gently pull the band backward, bending your toes towards your knee as you slowly extend your leg forward.
  3. Once your toes have been stretched to their full range of motion, hold the position for several seconds before slowly returning your foot to its original position. 

If you encounter hard resistance or pain during this movement, immediately stop the exercise.

Heel Raises

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Use the balls of your feet to raise yourself upwards until your heels are entirely off the ground.
  3. Push through your forefoot, extending until you have reached the limit of your range of motion.
  4. Slowly lower yourself back down until your heels return to the floor. 

If you experience pain during heel raises, immediately stop the exercise. 

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Turf Toe

At In Motion O.C., we’ve helped hundreds of people just like you recover from a turf toe injury — and we have the reviews and testimonials to prove it. 

We’re the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on both Google and Yelp, and we have the expertise it takes to determine the right physical therapy exercises for turf toe to get you back to doing the things you love. 

Request a free screening today.

*The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

In Motion O.C.