NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders Shows Off His “Turf Toe” (video)

Turf Toe symptoms and treatment


“(My toe) is numb right now, but it hurts.”

Way back in 1998, Deion Sanders, a defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys, was riding high, as in the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Then he suffered what seemed to be a fairly innocuous injury to his left big toe. But it ended up described as a “rare and unusual variation of turf toe“.

Over time and after several toe surgeries, that injury reduced a great career to a merely good career. Although he played a few more seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, Sanders was never again the same fantastically fast and amazingly agile cornerback who led the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl victories. But he clearly enjoys his life. Recently he showed off his crooked football toe condition to Dan Patrick.

Watch Deion show off his funky toe!

We asked Dr. Bob Baravarian, Co-Director at University Foot and Ankle Institute, for his observations of the crippled toe. He said,” the underlying big toe may have been subject to a bunion which created misalignment. When the second toe was surgically corrected, the plantar plate may not have been successfully repaired leading to the unstable drift of the toe into its upright position”.

Sanders isn’t the only prominent NFL player whose career was hindered by the injury commonly known as “turf toe”. Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders running back), Charles Woodson (Raiders and Green Bay Packers defensive back), Ray Lewis (Baltimore linebacker), and Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker) are among the turf toe victims whose NFL careers were diminished or cut short.

Turf toe is by no means limited to NFL players

Any athlete whose sport requires quick starts and stops, combined with potential physical impact to the back of a foot, is at risk of incurring turf toe.

Medical lingo for turf toe

Turf toe is a hyperextension injury to the first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint with varying degrees of injury to the plantar capsule, plantar musculature, and sesamoid complex.

How about in layman’s language

Turf toe is a nasty sprain that affects the ligaments and tendons that wrap around and stabilize the MTP joint, which is located at the base of the big toe.

The injury generally occurs when a player plants a foot in the ground with the heel elevated. Then bam! another player impacts the back of the heel. This causes abnormal bending (hyperextension) of the MTP joint. It can potentially cause both ligament sprains and tendon strains. Turf toe can also happen by repetitively using the MTP joint as a launching pivot for quick accelerations.

Turf toe usually (but not always) happens suddenly

Many athletes can recall the exact moment of impact. Pain is the primary symptom with or without being able to move the toe. Reduction of strength and a diminished range of motion are present in more severe cases. This makes it difficult to walk as well as maintain balance while standing.

Turf toe sometimes heals on its own. But if the pain and discomfort interfere with your daily activities, you should consider seeking attention from a podiatrist. This is especially true if the toe is deformed, if there is significant loss of function, or if the painful swelling does not quickly subside.

How to treat turf toe at home

Non-medical treatment of turf toe should begin immediately. By now we all know the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Immobilization will remove any stress that could prevent the injury from healing. Icing will relieve some of the pain and reduce swelling. Compression will slow down bleeding and lessen fluid accumulation in the affected areas. Keeping the foot elevated will also prevent excessive fluid accumulating around the MTP joint. Over-the-counter medication (aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, etc.) will reduce inflammation and help manage pain.

If the injury doesn’t resolve quickly and the symptoms continue to interfere with ordinary activities, it’s time to make an appointment with a podiatrist. They can quickly diagnose the problem and prescribe various stretching and strengthening exercises designed to improve the toe’s range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding the MTP joint. In extreme cases, surgery may be indicated, and is almost always effective.

UFAI is here to help with your foot and ankle problems. Our nationally recognized podiatrists and foot and ankle specialists offer the most advanced care along with the highest success rates in the nation. UFAI’s physicians are leaders in the field of research and treatment of turf toe and all foot and ankle conditions.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (877) 736-6001 or visit us at

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