Today, we’re going to talk about the difference between metatarsalgia and stress fractures.
First off, metatarsalgia is a condition which causes the ball of your foot to become painful and inflamed. Most metatarsalgias are overuse injuries which occur gradually when recurring forces cause damage to the ball of the foot.
A stress fracture, on the other hand, is a tiny crack in the bone. Most stress fractures are overuse injuries, caused by repetitive force – such as running or jumping repeatedly.
Both conditions are common in athletes who engage in running and sports activities, and there are even recommended shoes for metatarsalgia that may help with the condition.
The main symptom of metatarsalgia is sharp, aching or burning pain in the metatarsal bones. Most often, the pain develops over a long period of time, rather than suddenly.
The primary symptom of a stress fracture is pain in the foot or ankle. The pain usually develops slowly and worsens when doing weight-bearing activities. Other symptoms include pain that dissipates during rest and swelling on top of the foot.
Pain is felt in different locations
Both metatarsalgia and stress fractures involve different structures. A stress fracture is a bone injury, while a metatarsalgia is a ball of foot injury.
Of course each of these tissues is located in a different region within the foot, that’s why the pain is felt in different locations.
The pain hurts when you apply force or when you aggravate the injured tissues when walking or running.
For instance, a metatarsalgia will most often hurt when you press directly on the ball of foot, the part of the sole just behind the toes. With a stress fracture, you might barely notice any pain at first, but it gets worse with time. The pain usually originates from a specific point and decreases when you rest.
Patients often become confused when they apply force to the ball of the foot if they have a stress fracture, because they also experience pain. But of course, this is because you’re applying force to the bones located in the ball of foot region.
Pain is different when doing various activities
Some activities will make certain conditions worse. If you have metatarsalgia, the problem is in the ball of foot, so it hurts when you press on this specific region. Doing anything that involves a lot of stress on this area can really irritate the tissues because you’re applying force at the injured location.
But because the bones only hurt when you apply a lot of force, it is sometimes possible to walk, run or jump normally if you do something to reduce the amount of stress in the ball of foot when you do these activities. Cushioning your feet in the injured region may allow you to walk, run or jump without experiencing pain.
But that would definitely not be true of a stress fracture. Cushioning simply won’t help. You have to eliminate the stress in order to reduce discomfort. So although you can still walk around albeit with a lot of pain, you need to focus on avoiding too much force to allow bones to repair themselves. As such, you should not engage in any jumping or running.
Location and severity of swelling is different
One of the things that will help you differentiate between the two conditions is whether you have swelling or not. If you experience swelling, the exact location of the swelling can tell a lot about which tissues are injured.
Although a stress fracture can swell, the amount of swelling is usually so miniscule that you won’t notice it on the surface of your foot. So, if your feet, legs and pelvis hurt and you have little to no swelling, you may have a stress fracture. But that’s not always a guarantee.
The flip side is that if you have significant swelling, it’s unlikely that a stress fracture is the cause of your problem. Stress fractures don’t cause too much swelling.
However, when you get metatarsalgia, you can experience a lot of swelling. The swelling is most noticeable on the ball of the foot.
What you need to do is to compare both your feet side-by-side. When you do this, you can compare the tendons and veins on top of your feet. If you have less veins and tendons and veins that are much difficult to see on your non-injured foot, then it’s likely that you have metatarsalgia.
Metatarsalgia vs Stress Fracture – conclusion
In conclusion, metatarsalgia is a type of pain that is experienced in the ball of the foot while a stress fracture is a type of pain that is felt in the ankle and foot. Both of these conditions are caused by overuse and are common in athletes who engage in running or jumping activities.
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