Turf toe, or Metatarsalphalangeal joint sprain, is when the joint and connective tissue between the foot and the big toe gets injured. When a player sustains a turf toe injury, they are actually tearing the capsule that surrounds the joint at the base of the toe. Tearing this joint capsule can be extremely painful. But who cares? It's just a toe!
NFL players can play through a little pain in their toe right? Wrong. Any athlete that has to push off to gain momentum, like a sprinter, or a running back, or (gulp!) a wide receiver, needs to push off with their toes to get that burst out of the gate.
It should be noted right off the bat that Buffalo Bills WR Terrell Owens does not have turf toe. The injured star receiver will miss his third consecutive pre-season game this weekend in Pittsburgh with what is being termed a sprained toe. Owens has done limited work on the toe, and as he continues to claim that it is getting better, the predominant theory is that he'll be available, at the latest, when the Bills take on New England in the season opener.
But let's not kid ourselves. It doesn't take a lot of extra strain to turned a sprained toe - difficult enough to heal up - into a full-blown turf toe injury. This is the kind of injury that, if not given the proper time to heal, can nag a player all year, severely limiting his production. In some cases, it can even end a career.End a career? Am I serious?
You bet I am. Ask Pittsburgh Steeler great Jack Lambert, or former Baltimore Raven stud tackle Jonathan Ogden. Both of those players were forced to end stellar careers due to nagging toe injuries. Anybody who paid attention to the declining numbers that San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson put up last year will tell you that a bothersome toe injury was to blame. Ditto for Darren McFadden. These injuries cannot be taken lightly, and the Bills would be wise to let T.O. rest it.
Treatment for turf toe
As with any injury in which you are talking about joint inflammation, one must hark back to the days of high school health class and remember R.I.C.E. If your memory of high school health class is fuzzy, we don't blame you.
Basically what T.O. needs to do is avoid pushing off with his toes for about three weeks, sit on his butt, stay by his pool with his latest hottie and keep some ice on his foot. When he comes back, special inserts can be placed in his shoe to give his toe extra support. That insert will, however, limit the flexibility he has in that foot. That is how it helps him heal the turf toe, but that could also effect his burst out of the box. Even if his toe is just about fully healed, fear of re-aggravating the injury could slow him down some.
A little good news!?
If allowed to heal properly, the odds that turf toe reoccurs is low. It can come back and be more difficult to shake if the athlete in question pushes himself too soon and re-aggravates the toe. Rarely is surgery required to deal with an injury like this, if ever. There are times when surgery is needed; for instance, if bone spurs develop they can seriously complicate the rehab process. As Owens is practicing now, even on a limited basis, that is a good sign that surgery isn't going to be needed. He and the team still should give the injury a little more time to heal before he goes full bore to test it out. That's obviously the game plan, as Owens isn't going to play this Saturday. Why push it now?
What we can expect
Really, all turf toe (and, hopefully more relevant to Owens' case, less severe toe injuries) needs is good old R.I.C.E. If given the proper time and treatment, T.O. should be fine. That is why T.O. not playing against the Steelers this Saturday is a very good thing. Owens will most likely take it very easy the rest of this week, then maybe play in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions. As long as Owens is as close to 100 percent as possible on the evening of September 14, the Bills and Owens should be fine. In this case, caution is the best play.