How To Cope With Ball-Of-Foot Pain (Metatarsalgia)

If you are experiencing ball-of-foot pain (metatarsalgia) you may be wondering what you have done to your foot to make it hurt so. The fact is, this condition is not usually due to a single injury or trauma. Instead, it is made up of a collection of symptoms that are attributable to various problems with the foot.

These manifest as pain, swelling, bruising and inflammation.

The locus of pain is usually the metatarsal heads. This is the area of the foot where the middle toes join with the ball of the foot. In some instances, ball of foot pain affects only the big toe (first metatarsal). Regardless of where ball of foot pain is centred, it can result in stress to the ligaments, bones and muscles of the foot. If left untreated or treated improperly, it can result in loss of mobility.

What is the cause of ball of foot pain?

ball of foot painThough there may be many minor reasons for the development of this condition, the cause is really quite straightforward. If your foot is not functioning correctly, you are very likely to experience metatarsalgia pain due to excessive pressure on the ball of your foot. This stress is ultimately the cause of metatarsalgia.

Here are some of the factors that can contribute to the situation:

  • Hammer toes, claw toes and/or bunions
  • Metatarsal stress fracture
  • Irregularly shaped feet
  • Badly worn footwear
  • Incorrect footwear
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity

Although there are many reasons and causes of metatarsalgia, you should also know that is possible for this condition to develop for no specific reason.

Who is affected by metatarsalgia?

A wide range of people can develop pain in the ball of the foot. In fact, from age 30 to age 80, you are likely to be afflicted. If you experience this sort of pain, it’s important that you heed the warnings your body is sending you. Otherwise, your foot may become quite inflexible and stiff.

The age range for metatarsalgia potential is so broad because there are so many ways to develop it. People who are overweight and inactive can develop it because of excessive weight and poor muscle tone and strength. Conversely, people who are extremely fit and very active in high-impact sports may be plagued by ball of foot pain due to excessive stress on the feet.

A wide range of people are at risk for a number of other reasons. Pre-existing foot problems such as very long metatarsal bones, very high arches, hammertoe, arthritis or gout can cause ball of foot pain. Wearing badly worn shoes, badly fitted shoes or high-heeled shoes can also cause metatarsalgia.

What does ball-of-foot pain feel like?

Here are 9 symptoms you should look for:

  1. You may experience swelling, aching and burning pain in the ball of your foot.
  2. Pain may subside when you are still but increase when you stand or move about.
  3. Walking barefoot (or on hard surfaces even in shoes) may feel quite painful.
  4. You may experience shooting pains or other sharp pains in your toes.
  5. It may hurt to flex your toes and/or your toes may feel numb or tingly.
  6. You may develop a thick callous over the metatarsal heads.
  7. The pain may spread throughout the sole of your foot.
  8. You may develop skin lesions on the ball of your foot.
  9. You may feel pain centred in the ball of your foot.

The pain of metatarsalgia may be chronic, intermittent or acute. It may develop quite slowly, or come on very rapidly. Pain in the metatarsal region can feel like having a rock in your shoe. This is especially true if you developed a thick callous over the metatarsal heads.

What can you do to prevent ball of foot pain?

If you don’t have metatarsalgia, you’ll be happy to know that you may be able to prevent it. This is all a matter of taking good care of your feet, and here are some smart tips to help you do just that:

  1. Alternate your forms of exercise so as not to overstress your feet. For example, you might do yoga one day, swim another day and go cycling another day. Don’t do the same activity day after day.
  2. Whenever you are relaxing be sure to elevate your feet to give them the most rest.
  3. Pay close attention to what your body is telling you and respond accordingly.
  4. Always wear high quality shoes that fit you well and provide proper support.
  5. Add extra padding and foot support to your shoes as needed when exercising.
  6. Do a series of foot stretches daily. Look up exercises for plantar fasciitis.
  7. When your feet are in pain, be sure to rest them.
  8. Be careful not to exercise to excess.
  9. Follow your doctor’s orders closely.
  10. Maintain a healthy weight level.

What can you do for relief of ball of foot pain?

There are a number of things that you can do at home to help reduce the pain in your feet. Use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be helpful.

You may wish to apply an ice pack or roll a frozen bottle of water under the ball of your foot to help ease the pain through massage and cryotherapy.

For very severe pain, your doctor may recommend steroid injections. Physical therapy may also be helpful. If these interventions do not help, foot surgery may be needed to resolve the cause of the problem.

How do you know it’s metatarsalgia?

You should see your foot doctor for a proper diagnosis because the symptoms of ball-of-foot pain are common to a number of other more serious conditions. For example, if you have neuroma you may also experience pain in the ball of your foot, burning sensations, tingling and numbness.

Neuroma is a condition that can affect any area of your body, but oddly enough, it usually strikes the ball of the foot. Is especially true of Morton’s neuroma, which affects the area between the third toe and the fourth toe. It is so much like metatarsalgia that even doctors and podiatrists can misdiagnose it.

To correctly diagnose your foot problem, your doctor should perform the following series of tests:

  1. Check for hammer toes and measure the second toe’s length.
  2. Palpate the sole of the foot to look for a bruise or a lump.
  3. Examine the sole of the foot for deformities.
  4. Take x-rays to check for bone fractures.

Additionally, your doctor will perform a physical exam and discuss your medical history and your family medical history with you.

How to talk with your doctor about your ball of foot pain problems

When you speak with your doctor, be sure to ask all of the questions you have in mind. It’s a good idea to make a list before you visit your doctor. Here are some of the questions you may want to add to your list:

  1. What nonsurgical alternatives are available to deal with metatarsalgia?
  2. How long should I take a break from my usual exercise routine?
  3. How can I improve my lifestyle to reduce my symptoms?
  4. How can I improve my diet to help my condition?
  5. What is my ideal weight?

Your doctor will talk with you about your activities and examine your footwear. He or she may make recommendations regarding your weight, activities and proper footwear.

For example, if you currently walk or run for exercise your doctor may recommend that you switch to swimming, cycling or some other low or no impact form of exercise.

If your current shoes are thin-soled or badly worn, he or she may recommend that you switch to very supportive athletic shoes. Over-the-counter or prescription orthotics may also be recommended.

Good arch support helps relieve the pressure of ball of foot pain. Ball of foot pads and toe crests are also very helpful for this problem.

If you are overweight, your doctor may make recommendations regarding diet and exercise and/or participation in weight loss programs to help relieve the pressure on your feet and improve your overall good health.

Persistence and consistency pay off

Ball-of-foot pain can be excruciating. Once you have it, you will not be able to “cure” it short of surgery. It is possible to manage it, though. Consistently good care of your feet, proper diet and exercise, good shoes and well-chosen orthotics can work wonders to help alleviate pain in the ball of your foot.

Disclaimer: does not provide medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.


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