Toe Sprain


A toe sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support a toe. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other.


A toe sprain is caused by trauma from things like:

  • Stubbing the toe into an object when walking barefoot or while wearing sandals
  • Stopping quickly when running, causing a toe to jam into the end of the shoe
  • Landing awkwardly from a jump, causing a toe to jam into the end of the shoe

The Toes (Phalanges) of the Foot

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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Playing sports, such as football, soccer, basketball, and track
  • Dancing
  • Wearing the wrong footwear for an activity


Problems may be:

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


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how you hurt your toe. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on your toe.

It can be hard to tell a toe sprain from a fracture or dislocation. Pictures of the foot may be taken. This can be done with:


Treatment will depend on the injury and how severe it is. The goal of treatment is to ease pain and improve movement. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as rest, ice, a compression bandage, and raising the foot to ease pain and swelling
  • Over the counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
  • A stiff shoe to keep the toe still as it heals
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the toe and improve movement


Most toe sprains are due to accidents. They cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered by wearing the right athletic shoes for activities.


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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Accessed October 12, 2020.
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Derry S, Moore RA, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Du P, Chen K, et al. The pediatric ankle and foot: a review of common injuries in the pediatric athlete and their treatments. Annals of Joints.2018;(3):35-46.
Sports injuries. National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
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Accessed October 12, 2020.
Topical NSAIDs. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 9, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 6/8/2021

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