What is Turf Toe? 12 NFL Greats Who Have Been Grounded by Turf Toe

While the NFL has been stepping up it’s policies regarding concussions, there’s another frequent injury that doesn’t get as much media. Turf toe.

If you don’t think that turf toe is a serious matter, then just ask the Baltimore Ravens. The number-two seeded team in the AFC has had three players sidelined this season from turf toe. You could also ask the Arizona Cardinals how they feel about it after losing Kevin Kolb for an extended period of time during the 2011 season.

More players have been affected by this throughout the years then most of us are probably aware of. The Titans’ Chris Johnson battled through the injury during college. The Lions’ Jahvid Best dealt with the injury during his rookie season. Even other athletes, like the Chicago Bulls’ Carlos Boozer, are at risk. But, what exactly is turf toe?

Turf toe is “a hyperextension injury to the first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint with varying degrees of injury to the plantar capsule, plantar musculature, and sesamoid complex”.

In less scientific jargon, it’s a nasty sprain that occurs in the joint behind a players big toe.

This typically occurs when a player has his foot planted in the ground, with the heel in the air and is subjected to a force on the back of the foot thereby hyperextending the first MTP joint. The injury usually happens when a football player’s cleat is engaged with the turf and another player lands on the back of the heel.

Symptoms of turf toe include swelling and pain at the joint of the big toe and metatarsal bone in the foot. As well as, pain and tenderness on bending the toe or pulling (stretching) it upwards. It can take several weeks to properly heal and can lead to arthritis around the joint.

There are three grades with turf toe injuries.

Grade 1 is the least severe and is a stretch injury or sprain of the plantar capsuloligamentous complex. A player can usually continue to play and experiences mild to moderate pain.

“A grade 2 turf toe injury reflects a partial tear of the plantar capsuloligamentous complex. These patients present with swelling and pain during weight bearing and often guard against passive dorsiflexion. A grade 3 turf toe injury represents a complete tear with avulsion of the plantar plate from the metatarsal head. These players present with increased swelling and ecchymosis, severe tenderness, and are often unable to bear weight on the forefoot.”

Turf toe among American football players was first described in 1976 by researchers Bowers and Martin. Since then, there have been numerous studies and research on the condition. But, one of the more interesting findings came in 2009. The research discovered that 30% of football players had experienced turf toe, despite improvements in shoe wear and artificial turf.

With that in mind, here’s twelve NFL greats who have had a turf toe injury.

12. Matt Ryan

The Falcons quarterback missed weeks 13 and 14 of the 2009 season because of the injury.

11. Santonio Holmes

The Jets troublesome receiver suffered a turf toe injury in the 2010 season, but was able to not miss any games.

10. Sterling Sharpe

The legendary Green Bay receiver had the injury during the 1994 season, but still managed to have an outstanding season.

9. Darren McFadden

The Raiders running back could become one of the best, if not for turf toe. McFadden suffered a turf toe injury during his rookie season in 2008 and has missed time because of it in 2010 and 2011.

8. Steve McNair

The late Steve McNair battled through the injury during the 1999-2000 season, but managed to lead the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl appearance.

7. Charles Woodson

While in Oakland during the 2000 season, cornerback Charles Woodson suffered his first turf toe injury in the NFL. He hasn’t completely shaken the injury since.

6. Jonathan Ogden

The former offensive tackle for the Ravens, and most likely future Hall of Famer, was forced to retire in 2008 because of the injury.

5. Ray Lewis

After missing several games this previous season, Lewis’ former teammate Jonathan Ogden gave him some advice on turf toe. Don’t rush back into the game. Lewis probably didn’t listen, so let’s see how he performs next season.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson

Early in the 2008-2009 season, LT was grounded because of turf toe.

3. Antonio Gates

Gates had to have surgery for the ailment following the 2007-2008 playoffs, but still managed to recover in time for the next season.

2. Deion Sanders

Prime Time has had multiple surgeries to fix turf toe injuries. The first was in 1998, where he managed to play several more seasons, and the other was in 2011, despite being retired from the game.

1. Jack Lambert

The legendary Steelers linebacker was forced to call it a day after a turf toe injury during the 1984 season.

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