Covid Toe – Is it a real thing?

Aaron Rodgers has Covid toe – or maybe it’s a fracture, or not. It certainly didn’t seem to bother his play much Sunday as the Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 36-28 at Lambeau Field.

This somewhat bizarre story was reported by Andrew Beaton in The Wall Street Journal this week, adding new dimensions to the complications of Covid-19 infection. Rodgers did indeed have Covid-19 after testing positive, causing him to miss the Packers game November 7th. He sat out 10 days because he was unvaccinated, but returned to the field to play on November 14th against Seattle.

Rodgers first described a mysterious and painful toe injury as a “Covid injury.” At a press conference last week, he referred to his injury with the term “Covid toe,” a medical condition that can arise from the body’s response to the disease he had recently contracted.

After the WSJ ran a story reflecting his remarks, he said he had never heard of “Covid toe” and instead insisted he had a fractured toe. “I mentioned yesterday that it’s worse than a turf toe and it must be a bone issue,” Rodgers said. “I’ve never heard of Covid Toe before. I have no lesions on my feet.”

This all started on a sports talk program called the Pat McAfee show where, among other topics, Rodgers discussed the toe injury that has hobbled him since he returned to the field. “I didn’t have any lingering effects, other than the Covid Toe,” Rodgers said on the program. But he later pushed back at this characterization of his toe problem, insisting his comment was because of a joke by McAfee. The Packers declined to comment on a player’s medical issues.

What is the truth about Covid Toe?

There really is a condition known as Covid Toe. The more formal medical term is pernio or chilblains, which is a condition that causes symptoms such as discoloration and lesions. It can be extremely painful and turn the toes purple, a sign of the body’s strong immune response to the virus.

In an October study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, research found that Covid Toes typically occur in younger patients who experience mild Covid symptoms. The condition is believed to be caused by the body producing too much interferon in response to the virus. “The way I would think about it is it’s basically a side effect of how your own immune system is fighting the virus,” said Esther Freeman, a doctor and principal investigator for the Covid-19 Dermatology Registry. “It’s part of our body’s response to the response to the virus. It’s almost too much of a good thing.”

Dr. Freeman, who’s also an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, admits the incidence of Covid Toe isn’t precisely known. She did note the condition tends to occur one to four weeks after infection. That timeline aligns well with Rodgers’ symptoms. News of Rodgers’ positive test first emerged on November 3. After that sidelined him for 10 days, missing one game, he returned to play against the Seattle Seahawks on November 14, but was listed as having a toe injury. In the game the following week against the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers was briefly replaced by his back-up before halftime to tend to his toe.

“The best way to avoid Covid Toes is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Freeman. But now, Rodgers insists he suffered an injury to his toe during his quarantine while he was doing his own workouts and trying to ramp up his conditioning. He said he didn’t know what it was until he got back in the team’s facility and got it x-rayed.

Covid Toe or fracture? Apparently, it doesn’t really matter to the Packers as long as they keep winning. But it does represent another good reason to get vaccinated.

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