DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is the quarterback and captain of his junior varsity football team. He’s a good student too. My wife noticed he was walking kind of funny and mentioned it to me. I asked him what happened, and he said his coach told him that he had turf toe, sort of a stubbed toe. Is that what turf toe is? I never heard of it. – M.S.

Turf toe is a condition described in the late ’70s, when artificial turf came into wide use. It happens when the ball of the foot is vertical to the ground with the heel in the air and the base of the big toe is jammed against the ground. It’s much like a sprain. The ligaments and the tough capsule around that joint are stretched and sometimes torn. It’s not the same as a stubbed toe.

Players who wear very flexible shoes and run on hard playing surfaces are the ones who most often sustain this injury. It can happen on natural or artificial surfaces.

Sprains come in three degrees. Third-degree turf toe makes it impossible for a person to stand on that foot so great is the pain. A first-degree sprain involves stretched ligaments with only a few torn fibers. In a first-degree turf toe, the toe might have a bruise at its base and the base might be slightly swollen. The joint is sore, but not to a great degree. First-degree sprains heal quickly. Third-degree sprains call for doctor intervention.

If your son has only slight swelling and minimal pain, then warm soaks and rest can usually allow for healing. If he wants to resume playing right away or if the swelling or pain is great, he needs to see a doctor. The toe could be broken, and he could have ligaments that are completely severed. In these instances, he needs a professional diagnosis and professionally directed treatment.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you write about foot calluses? How do you get rid of them? – K.C.

Calluses are evidence of pressure or friction on the foot. Getting rid of pressure and friction gets rid of calluses.

For current calluses, soak your feet in warm soapy water for five or 10 minutes. Then rub them with an emery board or pumice stone, both available in drugstores. Do this daily until you reach soft skin.

For prevention, wear shoes with cushioned soles. Or get pads to cushion the calluses, or buy cushion insoles. Again, these are drugstore items.

If the callus is on the ball of the foot, a metatarsal pad or bar, placed behind the callus, takes pressure off that area.

Some find that two pairs of socks give them all the cushioning they need.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A while back, a reader asked why his neck became sore while performing sit-ups. I have observed many individuals at health clubs performing sit-ups incorrectly. The exerciser places the hands behind the head and then pulls on the head and neck, sometimes so violently that an injury is unavoidable. The head should be maintained in a neutral position, not pulled down. – S.M.

An excellent piece of advice, S.M. Thanks.

It’s OK to have the hands behind the head in a sit-up; just don’t pull on the head. You can also have the hands on the chest or alongside your body.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What treatment do you suggest for a muscle spasm?

My doctor told me to rest, use a heating pad and quit playing tennis. I have done that for five weeks and am not any better. I want to get back on the tennis court. – M.R.

By muscle spasm, do you mean a muscle cramp that came on while playing? A muscle cramp should not give you such protracted pain. Do you mean a muscle strain? A strain is a tear of muscle fibers. It, too, should be better after five weeks. Get a second opinion about what’s wrong with your leg.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I just wore a heart monitor for 24 hours. While wearing it, I had a bad spell of acid reflux. Has acid reflux ever been misdiagnosed as atrial fibrillation? I was diagnosed two years ago with atrial fibrillation, but it was later refuted by a cardiologist. – J.O.

It’s hard to mistake acid reflux (heartburn) for atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a rapid, irregular heartbeat that some people describe as palpitations. Listening to the heart, feeling the pulse and taking an EKG can reveal it without any doubt.

Do you mean can acid reflux bring on an attack of atrial fibrillation? I haven’t seen it listed as a trigger, but anything is possible.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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