Toe Conditions: Plantar Plate Tear

in this video Dr. Baravarian discusses plantar plate injuries, their causes, the symptoms and the treatment options at University Foot and Ankle Institute

The plantar plate is a strong ligament on the bottom of the foot that attaches your toes to the the long bones at the base your toes. This ligament keeps the toes in place and stops them from over-extending or drifting abnormally.



Successful treatment of plantar plate injuries starts with an accurate diagnosis as they often present like other injuries. We've seen thousands of misdiagnosed patients who needlessly suffered for years. We've treat plantar plate injuries with the highest success rates in the nation.

Plantar Plate Injury Symptoms

Plantar Plate Repair Surgery, Plantar Plate Treament

Plantar plate injury with medial toe deviation and surgeon’s incision placement.


Patients often complain of swelling and pain in the ball of the foot. The pain can be described as a dull ache or a sharp pain and it may feel as though there is not enough cushion between the bone and the ground.


Over time, as the tear increases, the toe (most commonly the 2nd or 3rd toe) will begin to shift upwards or to one side, especially the 2nd toe moving towards the great toe. When the foot is placed on the ground the toe may not touch. When the toe is elevated in this way, more pressure is placed onto the head of the metatarsal, causing bone bruising and pain.


If the plantar plate tear is not treated properly, the condition becomes chronic and the deformity can be greater. As the deformity progresses, the cartilage in the joint can become eroded, leading to arthritis and increased pain. Furthermore, further damage to the plantar plate may cause the toe to dislocate out of joint resulting in a more difficult surgical correction.



Diagnosing a Plantar Plate Tear

Your doctor will move and manipulate the troubled toe joint into several different positions to evaluate the amount of deformity and the location of the pain. X-rays show the degree and angles of the deformity, as well as any arthritis in the joint. In some cases, a special x-ray with a dye is injected into the joint to find the tear in the ligament. An ultrasound and/or MRI is used to evaluate the extent of damage to the plantar plate ligament.



Accurate Diagnosis of a Plantar Plate Tear is Critical

Plantar plate injuries are often misdiagnosed as hammertoes, capsulitis or neuromas. A misdiagnosis means the true underlying condition isn’t treated and the pain and deformity will continue to worsen.


Our team of foot specialists are nationally recognized experts in the diagnosis and treatment of plantar plate injuries. We use the latest technologies available and work directly with manufactures in the production of surgical products that have revolutionized treatment and have treated thousands of plantar plate injuries with the highest success rates in the country.



What Causes a Plantar Plate Tear?

UFAI patient Kathy discusses her plantar plate repair surgery and how it significantly improved her quality of life.

Although plantar plate tears can occur acutely through a stubbing injury, they most often develop slowly over time from a progressive degeneration of the ligament from repetitive overuse or biomechanical abnormalities.


Biomechanical abnormalities include a short or elevated 1st metatarsal, or a long 2nd or 3rd metatarsal. These abnormalities put constant pressure on the plantar plate and contribute to its degeneration.


Bunions can also put increased pressure on the plantar plate. Large bunions that push on the 2nd toe can eventually under-lap the toe, causing it to dislocate. This dislocation is caused by of thinning and stretching of the plantar plate as a result of the pressure from the bunion.


Steroid injections can occasionally cause weakening and thinning of the plantar plate ligament. Patients who have steroid injections to help relieve pain in the ball of the foot may have noticed increasing deviation of the affected toe after the injection.



Plantar Plate Injury Treatment Options

Conservative Care of a Plantar Plate Injury

In the early stages of the plantar plate injury, conservative treatments can be successful. The first step is to identify and stop the activity that is causing the injury.


In acute cases, your doctor may prescribe a boot to take weight off the ball of the foot. Tape may be wrapped around the toe to hold it in a downward position for several weeks. If there is any deformity from side to side, the tape can hold the toe in the opposite direction. This allows the ligament to heal without continued strain.


Custom molded orthotics may also be prescribed. Orthotics with support under the ball of the foot alleviates pressure off the overstretched area and keeps the deformity from returning.


But if the toe has drifted significantly, this indicates that the ligaments around the toes have been stretched. In those cases conservative treatments may ease the pain, but surgical treatments are necessary get the toe back into correct position.


Plantar Plate Repair Surgery

Our surgeons worked directly with manufactures and scientists in the design of a product that has revolutionized plantar plate repair, called the HAT-TRICK.


Dr Baravarian explains the HAT-TRICK technique that has revolutionized plantar plate repair surgery.

Because plantar plate repair surgery rarely requires operating only on the plantar plate, the HAT-TRICK takes an innovative approach to the three distinct portions of the surgery. The result is a significant increase in success rates:


The HAT-TRICK device not only allows for effective repair of the plantar plate and realignment of the toe, but also allows for collateral ligament repair. In many cases of plantar plate tear, the collateral ligaments on the sides of the toes have torn as an adjunct to the plantar plate and proper repair of these ligaments is essential.


If the metatarsal bone is long, the bones are repositioned to align the foot and decrease abnormal pressure through the region. The HAT-TRICK allows for more customized and specific osteotomy of the metatarsal.


Hammertoes can be the result of a chronic plantar plate issue. The HAT-TRICK incorporates an implant that allows for reduction and correction of the hammertoe deformity.


Occasionally, the plantar plate may be very badly damaged and not reparable. In such cases, the flexor tendon from the bottom of the toe is wrapped around the top of the toe to hold the toe in joint. No loss of function is noted with this flexor tendon transfer. No pin is used in order to avoid arthritis and allow early physical therapy. With proper care, patients return to full activity with little to no pain.



Preventing Plantar Plate Tears

Plantar plate injury, ball of foot pain, Plantar plate repair surgery

Proper position of the toe after surgery.

It is much more difficult to treat chronic tears of the plantar plate. Patients who recognize the symptoms of a plantar plate tear and have it evaluated by a specialist can receive the best treatment quickly, avoiding more complicated and harder to repair plantar plate tears. 


If signs and symptoms of a plantar plate irritation are caught early, the prognosis of conservative treatment is improved with things such as:


Custom Orthotics

Patients with certain biomechanical factors that put additional pressure in the forefoot should have an orthotic to distribute pressure away from the problem area. Increased pressure on the forefoot from biomechanical factors such as a long 2nd metatarsal, elevated 1st metatarsal, or short 1st metatarsal, can be minimized with the proper orthotics.


Athletes and runners should have their feet evaluated by a specialist to see if they are putting additional load on the forefoot. If so, custom orthotics can help prevent many issues that they may encounter, including plantar plate tears.


Proper Shoes

Certain shoes will cause increased pressure on the forefoot. Many running shoes will have a rocker forefoot that offloads pressure away from the ball of the foot. Flexible shoes, such as shoes used for barefoot running, will often put additional pressure on the forefoot, placing the patient at risk for developing a plantar plate tear.


Avoid Steroid Injections into the Joint

Many patients often just want a quick fix and will opt for an injection into the joint when the tissue is irritated. Although steroid injections can be helpful, they can weaken soft tissue structures, including the plantar plate. Steroid injections should be avoided in the lesser toe joints for this reason.

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