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  • Phillip Tirman, MD and Kevin Rice, MD

Turf Toe

Updated: May 7, 2021

First toe pain in a professional football player • Xray of the Week

First toe pain in a 30 y/o professional football player. What is the diagnosis?

MRI of Turf Toe

Figure 1. Sagittal T1 (A) and "fat sat" (B) images show a tear of the tibial sesamoid phalangeal ligament (red arrow). The tear is a complete tear (grade III) with retraction of the tibial sesamoid.

MRI of Turf Toe

Figure 2. Sagittal “fat sat” images show a normal (green arrow) and a torn (red arrow) sesamoid phalangeal ligament.

MRI of Turf Toe

Figure 3. Axial “fat sat” images show a normal (green arrow) and a torn (red arrow) sesamoid phalangeal ligament.

Turf toe mechanism of injury in football player

Figure 4. This football player is at high risk for turf toe. Note the hyperextension of the first metatarsal phalangeal joint (insert) and the massive downward pressure by the opposing player.

MRI of Chronic Turf Toe

Figure 5. Accelerated arthrosis in a 27 year old with chronic turf toe. Sagittal (A) and coronal (B) images show a shortened scarred sesamoid phalangeal ligament (red arrow) and a chronic osteochondral defect of the first metatarsal head (green arrows).


Turf toe is a tear of the sesamoid phalangeal ligament [Figs. 1-3]. The mechanism of injury in the acute setting is a hyperextension of the first metatarsal phalangeal joint when the hallux is fixed in equinus [Fig.4]. Chronic tear may occur with hyperextension or repeatedly pushing off when running or jumping. Playing football especially on artificial turf is a predisposing factor. Significant morbidity can occur with up to half of patients still symptomatic at 5 years. Most cases are managed conservatively with ice, elevation, and NSAIDS. Immobilization is used in higher grade injuries. However, surgery may be needed for failed conservative management or if there are complications such as sesamoid fracture, bipartite sesamoid separation, sesamoid proximal migration, instability with pain/synovitis, hallux rigidus, or an unstable chondral flap of the first metatarsal phalangeal joint [Fig.5].


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9. Ashman CJ, Klecker RJ, Yu, JS. Forefoot Pain Involving the Metatarsal Region: Differential Diagnosis with MR Imaging. RadioGraphics 2001; 21:1425–1440

11. Allen LR, Flemming D, Sanders TG. Turf toe: ligamentous injury of the first metatarsophalangeal joint. Mil Med. 2004 Nov;169(11):xix-xxiv.

Phillip Tirman, MD

Phillip Tirman, MD is the Medical Director of Musculoskeletal Imaging at the Renaissance Imaging Center in Westlake Village, California. A nationally recognized expert in the applications of MRI for evaluating MSK and spine disorders, Dr. Tirman is the co-author of three textbooks, including Shoulder Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Diagnostic Imaging: Orthopedics. He is also the author or co-author on over sixty original scientific articles published in the radiology and orthopedic literature.

In 2018, Dr. Rice was nominated and became a semifinalist for a "Minnie" award for the Most Effective Radiology Educator.

Kevin M. Rice, MD is the President of Global Radiology CME

Dr. Rice serves as the Chair of the Radiology Department of Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles, California and is a radiologist with Renaissance Imaging Medical Associates. Dr. Rice has made several media appearances and as part of his ongoing commitment to public education. Dr. Rice's passion for state of the art radiology and teaching includes acting as a guest lecturer at UCLA. In 2015 Dr. Rice founded Global Radiology CME to provide innovative radiology education at exciting international destinations, with the world's foremost authorities in their field. In 2016, Dr. Rice was nominated and became a semifinalist for a "Minnie" award for the Most Effective Radiology Educator.

Follow Dr. Rice on Twitter @KevinRiceMD

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