Metatarsalgia is a commonly experienced type of foot pain that occurs in the ball of the foot. It’s important to note that the condition is not an injury, but a symptom of other foot problems. The pain often manifests in the ball of the foot and is sometimes accompanied by bruising and inflammation. This pain can be experienced either in the metatarsal heads or can be more isolated, for instance affecting only the area surrounding the big toe.
A common complaint of metatarsalgia is ball of foot pain that’s experienced during weight-bearing activities. This pain can either be acute, recurrent or chronic, and can also be felt in the toes, presenting as sharp and shooting pain that increases in intensity when toes are flexed. Tingling and numbness may also be experienced.
Metatarsalgia occurs when the normal mechanics of the foot are disrupted, causing excessive pressure to be placed on the ball of the foot. There are several reasons why this can happen, including the following:
The more weight the foot has to bear, the more intense the pressure is when walking. As we age, the pads in our feet become thinner, resulting in less cushioning. This increases the chances of experiencing ball of the foot pain.
There are a number of unsuitable shoe types that can contribute to metatarsalgia, including shoes that are narrow, tight, or not adequately cushioned. Uncomfortable shoes that place pressure on the ball of the foot can compromise the mechanics of the foot and inhibit the process of walking.
There are several foot shapes that are more prone than others to experiencing metatarsalgia pain. For instance, a foot with a high arch or with a metatarsal bone that’s particularly long can place pressure on other regions in the foot, contributing to inflammation and pain. Other foot types that can be problematic include claw toes and hammertoes, which can both cause the metatarsals to press into the ground, placing stress on the ball of the foot. It’s also sometimes possible for inflammatory joint conditions, such as arthritis and gout, to cause similar pain.
Often, the most effective treatment for pain in the ball of the foot is to be proactive. Pain can be prevented through maintaining an ideal, healthy body weight. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes should also be worn, while ones that are too tight should be avoided. It’s also recommended to avoid wearing high heeled shoes, as this can exacerbate pain.
If prevention is not possible, and pain is being experienced, initial treatment should revolve around resting and icing the affected foot. Another treatment involves using suitable orthotics containing protective padding. Orthotics play an important role in supporting the foot, helping to retain normal function inside the shoe. It’s recommended to implement metatarsal support within the orthotics to provide the best protection. In addition to this, exercise, mobilisation and manipulation can sometimes be beneficial for pain caused by metatarsalgia.