Toe Sprain


A toe sprain is caused by a partial tear of the ligaments that support a toe. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other.

Causes    TOP

Toe sprains may be caused by:

  • Too much tension
  • Trauma

The Toes (Phalanges) of the Foot

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Risk Factors    TOP

Here are some factors that may raise your risk:

  • Stubbing your toe into something when walking barefoot or while wearing sandals
  • Stopping quickly when running, causing a toe to jam into the end of your shoe
  • Landing awkwardly from a jump, causing a toe to jam into the end of your shoe
  • Sports such as:
    • Football
    • Soccer
    • Rugby
    • Basketball
    • Running
  • Wearing the wrong footwear for an activity
  • Dancing
  • Poor coordination
  • Rough ground

Symptoms    TOP

This problem may result in:

  • Pain and tenderness in the toe
  • Pain when moving the toe
  • Swelling and bruising

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and how you injured your toe. Your toe will be checked to find out if it is stable and how badly it is injured.

Pictures may need to be taken of your toe. This can be done with:

Toe sprains are graded from 1 to 3.

Grade 1

Some microtearing of ligament

Grade 2

  • Partial tearing of ligament
  • Mild instability of the joint

Grade 3    TOP

  • Severe or complete tearing of ligament
  • Significant instability of the joint

Treatment    TOP

Treatment includes:


You will need time to heal, but strict rest is rarely needed. RICE therapy is often advised:

  • R est—Avoid using the toe. Go about your normal activities as much as you are able.
  • I ce—Ice may help reduce swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
  • C ompression—Compression of the toe with an elastic bandage may help to control swelling.
  • E levation—Keep the foot raised above the level of your heart to help drain fluid and reduce swelling.

Consider wearing a shoe with a stiff sole to help protect the toe.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and over-the-counter pain medicines may be advised.

Topical pain medicines, such as creams and patches, can also be put on the skin.

Prevention    TOP

Often, toe sprains can’t be prevented. However, to reduce your risk of getting a sprained toe, wear stiff-soled athletic shoes when playing sports.


American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine


British Columbia Association of Podiatrists
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association


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Published February 28, 2016. Accessed June 11, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 6/22/2015

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