Sprained Toe Symptoms: How You Can Tell It's a Sprain

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You can tell if you have a sprained toe (also known as turf toe) because it will be painful around the main joint in your toe. This joint is surrounded and protected by structures such as soft tissue and fibrous ligament tissue. This tissue connects bones and joints.

In a toe sprain, the ligaments are stretched too far, torn, or hyperextended, which causes pain. Toe sprain doesn’t directly affect your toe bone. 

Sprained toe is also known as turf toe. Turf toe gets its name from the increase in sprained toe injuries that occur when playing sports on turf fields compared to grass. Natural grass fields provide better foot, toe, and ankle support. Wearing athletic shoes designed for agility rather than support can also be a factor in getting turf toe.

In this article you’ll learn where in the foot a toe sprain occurs, how a toe sprained feels, what treatments are available, and how to recover from a sprained toe.

Doctor examining woman's foot.

mego.picturae / Getty Images

Sprained Toe Location

Spraining your toe means injuring the toe's main joint, called the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). When this happens, the surrounding joint ligaments are overstretched or torn, causing pain and swelling. This can happen when your toe is forcefully hyperextended, meaning there is excessive movement in one direction. This is why the common cause of sprained toes is injury from sports or other physical activity.

Anyone can sprain their toe, but there’s an increased risk when you have the following:

Broken Toe Location

Broken toes are different from sprained toes. A fracture (break) can happen in any forefront toe bone. This means the injury can be anywhere along the five metatarsal bones and 14 phalanges (toe bones).

Symptoms: How a Sprained Toe Feels

A sprained toe can be quite uncomfortable and can make walking a challenge. The following signs and symptoms tell you how a sprained toe feels.

A sprained toe feels like:

  • Pain and tenderness (localized to the sprain or spreading) 
  • Swelling 
  • Bruising
  • Limited mobility for your toe
  • Joint instability
  • Feeling unbalanced

Sprained vs. Broken Toe

A sprained toe is a hyperextension or tear in a ligament, whereas a broken toe involves a bone crack or fracture (break). A broken toe is a more serious medical situation.

Sometimes you may not know if you’ve sprained or broken a toe, especially if it’s an acute, or sudden, break or fracture and because both can occur at once. While both conditions are painful, the main difference is that a sprained toe will still have some mobility. A broken toe will not be able to move. A broken toe also can be more painful than a sprained toe. Recalling if you had heard a breaking, popping, or other noise during the injury is another clue.

Sprained Toe Treatment

Seeing your healthcare provider about a sprained toe can help you determine whether you have a toe sprain or a broken toe. This is necessary for proper treatment and a quick recovery. 

When you have a sprained toe, you have several options that fall under what’s known as the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method for sports injuries. This treatment method for sports injury applies only in cases of minor injury. For more serious injuries, consult with your healthcare provider.

Rest the Toe

Resting the toe means stopping the activity immediately and taking the pressure off your foot. During rest time, walking should be limited to avoid putting additional pressure on the toe, which can further injure the toe. 

Ice the Toe

Ice the toe for 20 minutes with cold packs several times daily until swelling and pain subside. Putting ice directly onto swollen skin will hurt and is not advised as it can shock the system and cause frostbite. Instead, cover the ice or your toe with a small towel or cloth before applying. 

Use Compression 

Compressing the sprained toe area can help to stop the pain and throbbing sensation. You can do this by wrapping the sprained toe or wearing an elastic compression bandage. Compression can also reduce swelling. 

Elevate Your Foot

Elevating your foot means propping it up above your heart or inclining your legs when lying down to reduce swelling. This is particularly useful in the first 24 to 48 hours after toe sprain injury.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Consult with a healthcare provider if you experience the following symptoms of a serious injury:

  • Severe pain, swelling, or bruising
  • Pain and swelling that do not go away after a few days
  • Being unable to tolerate any weight on the area
  • An obvious deformity

Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can also help to reduce pain and swelling in the treatment period include Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). 

Recovering From a Sprained Toe

Recovering from turf toe is best done with rest and treatment from a medical professional in serious cases. It does not commonly require further interventions, such as surgery. While recovering from a sprained toe, applying heat to the injury can help you stretch the area and may be used during physical therapy, if necessary.

Depending on the severity of the toe sprain, you may also need to wear suitable supportive devices and bandages and participate in strengthening exercises. If you’re unsure what level of support is needed during your recovery, consult a healthcare provider.


A sprained toe is a sprain in the main ligaments surrounding the main joint and connecting it to bone. You can get a sprained toe while engaging in physical activity, wearing unsupportive footwear, or due to other conditions including gout.

Symptoms include pain, swelling, and bruising. Treatment for sprained toe follows the RICE method for treating minor sport injuries. This includes resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the foot.

Treatment and recovery can also include NSAIDs like ibuprofen, heat, and physical therapy exercises to reduce symptoms and regain mobility and functioning. If you have any questions, consult with a healthcare provider. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Turf toe

  2. Nationwide Children’s Hopsital. Sports medicine: Turf toe

  3. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Toe and foot fractures.

  4. Mount Nittany Health. Toe sprain.

  5. NHS. How do I know if I’ve broken a bone?

  6. National Institutes of Arthritis and Muskoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Sports injuries: diagnosis, treatment, and steps to take.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.