Issue 065

August 2010

Professional fighter Rosi Sexton is a sports therapist and osteopath-in-training. She has fought in countries such as Russia, Canada and the USA, and is ranked as one of the top competitors in her weight class. For more information contact her by email at [email protected] or go to:

What is it? 

‘Turf toe’ is an injury that occurs when the big toe is forcibly bent upward, damaging some of the structures underneath the joint. Symptoms are swelling and pain at the base of the big toe, and pain when bending the toe upwards. In severe cases there may be a complete tear of the ligaments supporting the joint. The term ‘turf toe’ is occasionally used to refer to slightly different but related injuries. 

How does it happen?

In MMA it can happen when kicking, when pushing off for a takedown, or during a scramble in wrestling. On a crowded training mat there is a particular danger of another fighter landing on top of you while you have the ball of one foot planted on the mat. 

Who has it happened to?

In November 2008 a toe injury, in training, forced Josh Thomson out of his rematch with Yves Edwards in Strikeforce. He reports that he jammed his big toe while throwing a push kick, and that despite regular treatment the injury was too severe to consider going ahead with the fight. 


Treatment depends on how severe the injury is. The first step is to use R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to decrease swelling. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. ibuprofen) may also be prescribed. After a few days it is possible to begin gentle mobility exercises to reduce stiffness in the joint. This is best done under the guidance of a qualified professional – a physiotherapist or osteopath may also be able to help speed recovery and prevent ongoing problems.  

For mild injuries, taping the toe to give it some support might be all that is needed. More serious injuries will require time off training, and possibly a splint or cast to allow the ligaments to heal. Sometimes crutches will be needed to allow the fighter to avoid putting weight on the injured foot. Occasionally, a particularly bad turf toe injury may require surgery to repair. 

Many fighters suffering from a toe injury use wrestling boots for training, to give the injury some protection while it is healing, rather than training in bare feet.

How long can a fighter expect to be out for? 

For very mild injuries a fighter may be able to continue training immediately or after a few days. If there has been significant ligament damage then it may be six to eight weeks before a fighter can return to training. If surgery is needed then the recovery time could be six months or more. 

It is important for a fighter to have a good pain-free range of motion in the joint before returning to training, otherwise there is a greater risk of re-injury.  

What problems can it cause? 

Many athletes who suffer from turf toe have ongoing difficulties with instability and pain in the joint, especially if the original injury isn’t allowed enough time to heal properly before returning to training. The fighter may develop signs of arthritis and / or restricted movement in the joint, which could lead to further problems when walking or running. A fighter’s ability to wrestle may be compromised if they are unable to push off adequately from the ball of the foot.