Any person who participates in activities that involve running or jumping, like track, cross country, soccer, or football, are at risk for developing metatarsalgia. Metatarsalgia is a condition where the ball of your foot becomes painful and inflamed. Other causes could be certain foot deformities and ill-fitting shoes. 

This is not generally a serious condition, but it can be painful and can sideline an athlete. 

Metatarsalgia Anatomy

The metatarsals are the bones that connect the ankle to the toe. Pain associated with metatarsalgia will center underneath these bones, on what is known as the “ball” of the foot. This is the space between the foot’s arch and the toes.

Metatarsalgia Causes

Metatarsalgia can be caused by a single factor, or by a combination of factors. Some of the factors that can contribute to metatarsalgia are:

  • Intense training or activity. Runners are at a heightened risk of metatarsalgia due to the pressure placed on the front of the foot when a person runs. All athletes who participate in high impact sports are at risk, especially if they are not wearing the proper shoes.
  • Certain foot shapes. Having a high arch places more pressure on the metatarsals. People whose second toe is longer than their big toe are also at a higher risk, due to the extra pressure being placed on this second metatarsal. 
  • Foot deformities. A toe that curls downward (hammertoe) or painful bumps at the base of the toes (bunions) can cause metatarsalgia.
  • Excess weight. The more you weigh, the more pressure is placed on your metatarsals. Any excess weight will naturally place more pressure on the metatarsals. Losing weight could help reduce or eliminate symptoms.
  • Poorly fitting shoes. High heels are a common cause of metatarsalgia in women because they transfer extra weight to the front of the foot. Narrow shoes, or athletic shoes that don’t have appropriate support or padding, can also contribute to metatarsalgia.  
  • Stress fractures. Small beaks in the bones of the toes can change the way you place weight on your foot, and contribute to metatarsalgia. 
  • Morton’s neuroma. This noncancerous growth of fibrous tissue around a nerve will occur between the third and fourth metatarsal. It will cause symptoms similar to metatarsalgia, and can also contribute to and become metatarsalgia. 

Metatarsalgia Symptoms

Common symptoms of metatarsalgia can include:

  • Sharp, aching, or burning pain just behind the toes.
  • Pain that worsens when you stand, run, flex your feet or walk, especially barefoot on a hard surface. This pain will improve with rest.
  • Sharp or shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in your toes.
  • A feeling of having a pebble stuck in your shoe.

Metatarsalgia Diagnosis

There are multiple foot problems that could produce symptoms similar to that of metatarsalgia. To help confirm a diagnosis of metatarsalgia, your doctor will examine your foot while you are both standing and sitting. They will also ask you questions about your lifestyle and activity level. 

An X-ray may be necessary to rule out more serious injuries, like a stress fracture or break.

Metatarsalgia Treatment

Depending on the underlying cause of your metatarsalgia, surgery may or may not be necessary. Typically, all that is needed to relieve the pain of metatarsalgia are a few lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Rest. You can protect the ball of your foot from further injury by not placing stress on it. If you are standing or walking for a long time, elevate your feet afterward. Stick with low impact activities like swimming or cycling.
  • Ice the affected area. Apply ice packs to the painful or swollen area for 20-minute intervals, several times a day. Wrap these ice packs in a thin towel to protect your skin.
  • Take an over the counter pain reliever. Ibuprofen or aspirin will reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Wear proper shoes. Avoid too-tight or too-loose shoes and limit your wearing of high heels. Wear appropriate athletic shoes. 
  • Use metatarsal pads. These are insoles placed in your shoes, just in front of the metatarsal bone. They will deflect stress and pressure away from the ball of your foot.
  • Consider arch supports. Arch supports can be custom fitted or purchased over the counter. They will minimize the stress placed on your metatarsals.

There are, however, some rare cases where surgery is needed to realign the metatarsal bones.

Whether your treatment is surgical or nonsurgical, your doctor will likely recommend some form of physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of your foot.

At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.

Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or surgery.

If you have an acute or chronic foot or ankle injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-2832 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.

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