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Turf toe a real pain for Parker

It's an injury that led to the end of Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert's Hall of Fame career following the 1984 season.

Lambert was known for being tough as nails, but he couldn't overcome turf toe.

"Turf toe isn't something to play with,'' said two-time Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker, who missed two games this season and was limited against Cleveland last week because of the injury.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Rashard Mendenhall, who started the past three games, will be the feature back until further notice.

Turf toe is considered among the most debilitating injuries for a running back because it impairs his ability to plant his foot, cut and run at top speed.

Asked to describe a comparable injury to turf toe, Parker replied: "A quarterback with a shoulder problem trying to throw."

Lambert, who suffered turf toe while tackling Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell, missed half of the 1984 season, leading to his retirement.

Another NFL standout, Deion Sanders, underwent surgery for turf toe after the 1998 season and was able to play several more years. More recently, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson suffered turf toe in the 2008 opener. He played all 16 games but rushed for less than 1,200 yards for the first time in his career.

Turf toe is the spraining or tearing of the ligaments and tendons at the base of the big toe. It usually occurs when the toe is jammed forcibly into the ground. In most cases, the toe is bent backward too far, causing significant pain and swelling.

"To walk normally, you need to have 70 degrees range of motion in your toe. With this injury, you don't have that,'' said Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. "Perfect runner form starts in your big toe. You can't expect someone who runs for a living to do that expertly if the very starting point of that is (injured).''

Parker said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Steelers' 23-20 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 27, just before Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter. Parker rushed for a season-high 93 yards on 25 carries against the Bengals, and he also caught a 27-yard touchdown pass.

"It didn't really affect me until after the game,'' Parker said. "During the game, it was hurt. But it was something I could tolerate.''

In his first action since the injury, Parker carried seven times for 26 yards and lost a fumble against Cleveland. He also had one reception for nine yards.

"I'm starting to plant, cut and do all that stuff because it's starting to heal up,'' Parker said following Thursday's practice. "It's still swollen, but it's getting a lot better. This week is the best that it's been.''

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