Metatarsalgia is a condition in which the ball of your foot becomes painful and inflamed. You might develop it if you participate in activities that involve running and jumping. There are other causes as well, including foot deformities and shoes that are too tight or too loose.
Although generally not serious, metatarsalgia can sideline you. Fortunately, at-home treatments, such as ice and rest, often relieve symptoms. Wearing proper footwear with shock-absorbing insoles or arch supports might prevent or minimize future problems with metatarsalgia.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of metatarsalgia can include:
- Sharp, aching or burning pain in the ball of your foot — the part of the sole just behind your toes
- Pain that worsens when you stand, run, flex your feet or walk — especially barefoot on a hard surface — and improves when you rest
- Sharp or shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in your toes
- A feeling of having a pebble in your shoe.
Your doctor can also run blood tests and/or an x-ray, but these are generally not needed.
The following measures will often help improve metatarsalgia and stop it coming back:
Rest your feet – put your feet up regularly and avoid activities that make the pain worse; try low-impact activities such as cycling or swimming instead of sports that involve a lot of running or jumping
Use an ice pack – apply an ice pack to the affected area for about 20 minutes several times a day (a bag of frozen peas will also work); make sure you wrap it in a towel so it doesn't damage your skin
Change your footwear – try flat shoes that have plenty of room for your feet and have a well-cushioned sole; replace any worn out shoes as they could make things worse (read more about choosing sports shoes and trainers)
Use shock-absorbing pads or insoles – these can fit inside your shoes to help cushion your feet; they're available from pharmacies and sports shops, or can be bought online
Maintain a healthy weight – adopting a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular low-impact exercises can help you lose weight if you're overweight
Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain and swelling if necessary
Try these measures for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
It can also be recommended to refer you to a health professional that specialises in foot care, such as a podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist), physiotherapist, or foot and ankle surgeon.
These specialists may recommend additional treatments, such as custom-made insoles (orthotics), foot and ankle exercises, steroid injections or, in rare cases, surgery.