The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

NFL News: 49ers’ Linebacker Patrick Willis Out with a Toe Injury

Posted by on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014


One of the biggest stories in the NFL this week is that 49ers’ linebacker Patrick Willis has been put back on the IR due to a toe injury. He’s been out for the last three games, but he admitted that his toe pain has been a serious issue since a Week Six game against the Rams. “It’s been something that I’ve been dealing with for a while now,” he told “I could argue and say, ‘Should I have done it earlier before it got as bad as it did, before I hurt it worse than I did in the Rams game?’ I could, but I’m not going to, because I felt like at the time, I’ve always been a fighter and always been a competitor.” He added that the toe injury will require surgery.

patrick willis injured toe
Patrick Willis admits that his injured toe has dogged him “for years,” but became noticeably worse in Week Six. Image Source:

What Happened to Patrick Willis?

“Without a big toe, it’s like trying to grab without a thumb,” Willis told reporters. He also likened his injury to driving on bald tires, knowing you can’t put the pedal to the metal without spinning out. The seven-time Pro Bowler has reportedly “strained” his left big toe, which is an injury we refer to as “Turf Toe” because it is so prevalent among football and soccer players.

We’re unsure how the original injury occurred in this case, but common mechanisms of injury include:

– Repetitive extensions

– Explosive sprinting

– Stubbing the toe

– Another player landing on the foot

How Is “Turf Toe” Treated?

While a “strain” may not seem like a big deal, the toe injury can become quite chronic and painful if a piece of bone has broken off or if the muscle has torn completely. No amount of rest, ice, compression, or elevation can fix that type of damage. If imaging tests reveal a substantial injury, we typically recommend surgical intervention. Since Willis has “five or six good years” left in him and his replacement Chris Borland is playing well, it’s a prudent time to address the situation.

What’s the Prognosis for Patrick Willis?

Once the surgery is complete, Willis will need to be in a non-weight bearing cast or walking boot for a month. He can do gentle range-of-motion exercises to remain in good physical condition. Pool therapy, stationary biking, light weight training, and gait exercises are allowed at the four-week mark. After two months, he can transition into a stiff-soled shoe retrofitted with a special turf toe plate to prevent hyperextension. We can expect him to hit the field after about 16 weeks, but it could be a good year before we see him playing at pre-injury levels again. In general, the prognosis is pretty good, with the majority of players returning to full strength following surgery.

Treating an Injured Toe in NYC

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine handles many athletic toe injuries each year. We’ll help you diagnose and stabilize the injured toe, select appropriate footwear, and bounce back to game play as quickly as possible. Our sports medicine doctors and podiatric surgeons are board-certified and practice in accredited facilities in Manhattan and Westchester. Book a consultation and be seen without delay.


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.