Tennis toe, sometimes falsely referred to as turf toe, occurs as the result of sudden stopping movements that cause the big toe to ram up against the edge of a shoe. Although common in tennis, it can also be found in other sports where sudden stopping occurs, including soccer, football, basketball, and other sports played primarily with the feet on a hard or flat surface. Tennis toe is more often seen in those over 35 years of age, and happens more often on synthetic surfaces than natural ones.
When the big toe is constantly jamming against the edge of the shoe, the trauma usually affects the nail of the toe first. It often happens that the toenail does enough damage that it creates bleeding under the bed of the nail, referred to clinically as a subungual hematoma. Although the big toe, the toe closest to the mid-line of the body on both feet, is primarily the victim of tennis toe, any of the other toes can also fall prey to the movements that cause the problem. It is rare, however, for any other toe than the big and second toe to be affected.
There are several things that can be done to prevent tennis toe. The first thing to do is to check the length of the toenail. It is advisable to clip the nails so they don’t reach beyond the edge of the toe. In many cases, this can stop the problem.
Another problem that can cause tennis toe is shoes that are too tight or too loose, creating too much space for the toe to move. This can often be remedied by tightening the shoes or simply purchasing new ones. Taping the problem toe to the toe next to it may also help.
Although tennis toe is often referred to as turf toe, it is not an accurate description. Turf toe is caused by similar movements, but it refers damage to the tendons of the toe rather than the nail. It does not usually cause bleeding like tennis toe, although both conditions can occur at the same time.
Treatment for tennis toe depends on the severity. If there is only slight damage and little or no bleeding, antiseptic and a bandage can be applied to avoid infection and help healing. If there is a lot of bleeding or if the toe is swollen and infected, medical attention should be sought.