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What is Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is a foot condition where the ball of the foot, the part of the sole just behind your toes, becomes painful and inflamed. It is a common overuse injury, especially for athletes in high-impact sports. While this condition generally isn’t serious, it can keep you from the activities you love.

Causes of Metatarsalgia

Sometimes it is just one single factor that leads to metatarsalgia, but it is usually several factors working together. These factors include:

  • Intense training or activity: Distance runners are especially at risk for metatarsalgia because the front of the foot absorbs so much force when running. But anyone participating in high-impact sports are at risk, especially if their shoes don’t fit properly or are worn out.
  • Certain foot shapes: People who have a high arch are at risk of metatarsalgia because it puts extra pressure on the metatarsals. Having a second toe that is longer than the big toe could also be a factor. This is because it puts more weight than normal on the second metatarsal head.
  • Foot deformities: Too-small shoes and high heels can cause your foot to be misshapen. Hammertoe and bunions can contribute to metatarsalgia.
  • Excess weight: Extra pounds puts more pressure on your toes since most of your bodyweight transfers to the front of your foot when you move. Losing weight could reduce or even eliminate symptoms.
  • Poorly fitting shoes: High heels transfer extra weight to the front of your foot. This is a common cause of metatarsalgia for women. In addition, shoes with a narrow toe box or athletic shoes can lack necessary support and padding. This can also contribute to the problem.
  • Stress fractures: These small breaks in the metatarsals can be painful, causing you to change how you put weight on your foot.
top view of bunions

Symptoms of Metatarsalgia 

Often, symptoms of metatarsalgia include:

  • A sharp, aching, or burning pain in the ball of your foot
  • Pain that worsens when standing, running, flexing your feet, or walking. This pain is especially common when barefoot on a hard surface. However, the pain improves when resting.
  • A sharp or shooting pain, numbness, or a tingling in your toes
  • Feeling like you have a pebble in your shoe

Metatarsalgia Diagnosis

There are a few foot problems that cause very similar symptoms to metatarsalgia. For proper diagnosis, your doctor will need to pinpoint the source of your pain. Your doctor will likely examine your foot both while you stand and while you sit. They will also ask about your lifestyle and activity level. They may also recommend doing an x-ray to help identify or rule out a stress fracture.

Nonsurgical Treatment of Metatarsalgia

Not every foot problem needs medical care. It is common for your feet to ache after a day full of standing or after a difficult workout. But if the pain persists for more than a few days, you should talk to a doctor.. When untreated, this condition can cause pain in other parts of your feet and pain in other places of the body. This happens because of how many people limp due to the foot pain from metatarsalgia. 

Often, conservative measures are all patients need to relieve the symptoms of metatarsalgia. There are many home remedies and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce this pain.

  • Rest: You can protect your foot from more injury by not putting stress on it. You should also elevate your foot after standing or walking. It might also be helpful to take a break from your favorite sport and replace it with low-impact exercises for a while.
  • Ice the area: You can apply ice packs to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time several times a day. Remember to wrap the ice packs in a thin towel to protect your skin.
  • Take a pain reliever: You can try ibuprofen, Aleve, or aspirin to reduce the pain and inflammation.
  • Wear the right shoes: Make sure to avoid shoes that are too tight or too loose and limit how often and how long you wear high heels.
  • Use metatarsal pads: You can purchase these pads off-the-shelf and place them just ahead of the metatarsal bones to reduce stress on the painful area.
  • Consider arch supports: If the insoles don’t help, ask your doctor if they recommend arch supports. They might work to minimize stress on the metatarsal bones. Over-the-counter supports might be sufficient, or you can get them custom fitted.
meeting with patient about gout treatment

Surgical Treatment of Metatarsalgia

In the rare cases that conservative measures don’t work effectively, surgery might be necessary. This is also the case when the condition is complicated by other conditions like hammertoe. The procedure will be done to realign the metatarsal bones. 

If you experience persistent pain in the ball of your foot, contact Keir Foot & Ankle. Patients in Chicago, Alsip, or Worth trust us when they are experiencing metatarsalgia. We will make sure you are diagnosed and treated effectively to get you back to your favorite activities.