A toe sprain is caused by a partial tear of the ligaments that support a toe. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.
Toe sprains may be caused by:
- Stubbing your toe into something when walking barefoot
- Stopping suddenly when running, causing a toe to jam into the end of your shoe
- Landing awkwardly from a jump, causing a toe to jam into the end of your shoe
The Toes (Phalanges) of the Foot
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury.
Sports such as:
- Poor coordination
- Rough ground
- Pain and tenderness in the toe
- Pain when moving the toe
- Swelling and bruising of the toe
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your toe. The doctor will examine your toe to assess the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.
Tests may include:
- X-rays]]> —to make sure that no bones are broken
- ]]>MRI Scan]]> —to see if a ligament has torn completely (rarely needed)
Toe sprains are graded according to ligament damage. In addition, the more ligaments damaged the more severe the injury.
- Some microtearing of ligament tissue
- Partial tearing of ligament tissue
- Mild instability of the joint
- Severe or complete tearing of ligament tissue
- Significant instability of the joint
- Rest—avoid using the injured toe.
- Ice—apply ice or a cold pack to your toe for 15 to 20 minutes, four times a day for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin.
- Compression—if the injured toe is the big toe, wrap a two-inch elastic compression bandage around it. Put several wraps around the big toe and then include the rest of the forefoot within the bandage. This will limit swelling of your big toe. Other toes cannot be effectively compressed with a bandage. It is important not to cut off blood circulation to your toe or any body part when using such wraps – do not make them very tight.
- Elevation—keep the injured foot raised above the level of your heart for 48 hours (such as up on a pillow). This will help drain fluid and reduce swelling.
- Protection—wear a shoe with a stiff sole to help protect the injured toe.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
British Columbia Association of Podiatrists
Podiatrists in Canada
Managing injuries of the great toe. The Physician and Sportsmedicine . 1998 Sep.
Mullen JE. O'Malley MJ. Sprains—residual instability of subtalar, Lisfranc joints, and turf toe. Clinics in Sports Medicine . 2004; 23(1):97-121.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/ .
Pommering TL. Ankle and foot injuries in pediatric and adult athletes. Prim Care . 2005; 32(1): 133-61.
Sports Injuries: Basic Principles of Prevention and Care . Blackwell Scientific Publications; 1993.
Last reviewed November 2008 by ]]>John C. Keel, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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