The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Podiatrist-Recommended Turf Toe Exercises for Athletes

Posted by on Monday, August 29th, 2016

A lot of the athletes we treat are already familiar with “turf toe,” a ligament sprain in the big toe joint where the foot and toe come together. Tearing your big toe ligaments affects your balance, stability, and the push-off phase of your gait cycle. Then there’s the pain, which tends to feel worst at the bottom of the toe where it attaches to your foot. It usually hurts to extend your toe fully or walk, and you’ll probably notice some swelling.

With any luck, athletes can be back to the game within a day or two of resting, icing, compressing, and elevating. But more serious sprains can put you out for six to eight weeks, and a few players have even had their careers end following an injury like this, while others suffered arthritis-like stiffness or limited mobility upon healing. That’s why it’s so important to have a specialist look at your injury and guide you through rehabilitation to preserve range-of-motion.

turf toe exercises
“Turf toe” refers to a sprained ligament in the big toe joint. (Image Credit: HealingFeet)

Exercises for Turf Toe

When we treat athletes for turf toe at our sports medicine center in NYC, we often recommend some combination of the following exercises:

Shin Dorsiflexor Release

Strengthening your shins and the front of your ankle will help relieve some of the tension and stress on your big toe. Using a couch or chair for balance, kneel on a lacrosse ball with your shins. Slowly let your weight sink into the ball as your knee bends. Pump your foot up and down until the discomfort subsides. You can move the ball around to other sore spots to work the whole muscle and should usually aim for 3-5 minutes of this exercise per leg.

Soleus Release

A weak soleus muscle is often the culprit in cases of heel, ankle, calf, and low back pain. Sit on the ground with your calf resting on a lacrosse ball or foam roller. Place your other leg over the resting leg to increase pressure and then roll yourself up and down the ball. Stop when you find the tender spot, pointing your foot up and down for 30 seconds to release the tension.

Big Toe MWM

Mobilizations With Movement are great for a number of ankle and toe issues. Stand with one foot ahead of you and one behind, with your weight on the front foot. Anchor a resistance band attached to your front foot to a chair behind you. Slowly rock your front knee forward as far as you can without raising your heel, pushing your knee outward. Repeat for three sets of 10.

Banded Single Leg RDL

The single leg RDL is a “bang for your buck” move that benefits overall health and performance as well as helping to rehabilitate. Stand with your weight on one foot (through the heel), with a resistance band under the slightly-bent, weight-bearing knee so that it’s being pulled inward. Force your knee outward, extending your other leg straight behind you while bringing your chest forward. Hold and repeat for three sets of 10 per leg. If you want to see this one in action, check out the YouTube video. Be careful not to stretch your torso, rotate your hips, or bow your back while doing this one.

Nose to Wall with Trunk Rotation

Stand facing the wall with one foot ahead of you bearing your weight, toes slightly turned in, and your other foot behind you like a kickstand. Keeping your chest lifted, gently bend the front knee, shifting weight from the heel to the ball of your foot (with your back foot still planted). Perform three sets of 10 per leg.

About Our NYC Sports Medicine Doctors

Often, competitive athletes like basketball, soccer or football players sustain this type of injury, but we’ve noticed that the way a person walks also makes them more or less likely to sprain their big toe joint. Often, patients push off via the outside of the foot, causing excessive rotation that leads to overextension of the muscle and, eventually, a sprain. Forward pelvic tilt or weak muscles in the glutes, hamstrings, calves or feet may be contributing factors as well.

A visit to our gait analysis center can help you determine whether these forces are at work in your typical gait cycle. From there, we may fit you with custom orthotics, run you through a strength training program, or guide you through a new way of walking to avoid trouble in the future.

Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Ryan Minara, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Mariola Rivera at The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC are board-certified podiatrists and podiatric surgeons who work with professional runners, basketball players, golfers, Olympiads and everyday athletes alike. Contact us for details on our evaluations, acute emergency care, ongoing foot and ankle therapies, and prevention strategies.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.