Understanding and Treating a Sprained Big Toe: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

While everyone is prone to spraining their big toe, it is more common among professional athletes. It happens when you bend your big toe too far or too forcefully, and it can cause serious discomfort and sometimes disability. Although it is most often treated with over-the-counter medicines and adequate rest, you may have to visit a Columbia Podiatry Clinic if it becomes severe. This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and different treatment options for a sprained big toe.

What Is a Big Toe Sprain?

A sprained big toe, also known as a turf toe, is an injury that occurs when the ligaments holding the big toe joints (metatarsophalangeal joint) in place are overstretched. The tissues and bones in the joint become stretched or torn, which leads to pain and swelling.

Importantly, there is a difference between a sprained toe and a broken toe. In the case of a broken toe, the injury is done to the bone, while the only thing affected in the case of a sprain is the ligament.

Causes of Sprained Big Toe

The sudden or rapid stretching of the tendons inside your foot and ankle leads to sprained big toes. It can also occur when you extend your big toe beyond its normal motion range. You may also experience a turf toe after a traumatic event, such as hitting your toe on a hard surface. A repetitive movement of the toe over a long period can also lead to a sprained toe. Activities like football, ballet, dancing, rugby, running, basketball, and sprinting can also increase the chances of having a sprained big toe.

Types of Sprained Big Toe

Type 1

This is the most popular type of big toe sprain. A stretch usually causes it in the tendon or joint capsule. A little swelling and mild tenderness may also accompany type 1 sprain.

Type 2

This type of sprain may involve some tears to the ligaments; however, it doesn’t cause any damage to the cartilage. It also comes with moderate pain and swelling. With type 2 sprain, you may be unable to move your toe beyond a certain range.

Type 3

This is considered the most painful type of big toe sprain. At this stage, the capsule and ligaments have torn; hence the big toe joint becomes unstable. It is accompanied by severe pain and the inability to stand on your feet. You may also experience swelling and bruising.

Symptoms of Sprained Big Toe

The symptoms of a sprained big toe can differ depending on the causes. However, the most common symptoms of a big toe sprain are pain and swelling in the joint. Some other general symptoms include the following:

  • Inability to sit or stand for a long time.
  • A pop when you try to move your big toe.
  • Instability when running or walking.
  • Inability to move the big toe beyond a certain range.
  • A loose or stiff joint
  • Swollen toe joint

Treatment Options for Big Toe Sprain


If you’ve had a type 1 turf toe, then you may be able to treat it with a few days of rest. Your podiatrist will tell you the exact duration of rest. You must also avoid putting weight on your foot. This involves not standing for too long. If you’re an athlete, you may have to suspend your sports activities till you completely heal. Depending on the severity, your podiatrist may also recommend crutches or walking boots to help you heal faster.

Ice and Elevation

This treatment option involves elevating your toe above your heart and applying a cold compress to your toe for about 20 minutes. While elevating your toe reduces inflammation, ice helps to reduce pain and swelling.

Physical therapy (PT)

If you’ve been diagnosed with a sprained big toe, your podiatrist may recommend some physical therapy to help you heal faster. This involves certain stretches and exercises that help to strengthen muscles, reduce stiffness, and improve flexibility.


In rare cases, mostly type 3 sprain, a big toe sprain may require surgery. This happens when there are severe fractures, joint damage, or tears. The type of surgery will vary depending on the bones and tissues affected and the injury location.

In summary, anyone can sprain their big toe. However, athletes are at more risk. The treatment option will depend on the type of sprain. If you notice any of the symptoms above, ensure you visit your podiatrist immediately. They will examine the toe and diagnose.