How to Treat & Relieve “Metatarsalgia” Ball of the Foot Pain

March 29, 2021 8:24 am Published by

It’s one thing for the ball of your foot to hurt after an obvious injury— caused by a high-impact jump or training for a marathon. Here it’s easy to pinpoint the cause.

But it’s not just athletes who suffer from the painful condition of metatarsalgia.

Those who wear poorly-fitted shoes, are obese or have other foot conditions can develop inflammation of the tendons, ligaments and cartilage around the metatarsal bones. 

Fortunately, there are few things you can do to subdue the pain and prevent further irritation of the ball of your foot.

1. Rest, Rest, Rest

It’s important to understand that metatarsalgia pain is a result of inflammation of the tendons, ligaments and cartilage around the metatarsal bones of the balls of your feet. With this in mind, metatarsalgia treatment options are focused on ways to reduce inflammation/swelling/irritation.

Because the cause of the inflammation is often due to pressure on your foot tendons, ligaments and cartilage— getting off your feet will remove the burden. Now, we know you can’t realistically sit around for days, but the more you can take a load off while it’s hurting, the better! 

2. Elevate & Ice the Ball of the Foot

When you can sit down, do the balls of your feet a favor by following the ol’ R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevate) trick. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply to the balls of your feet for 20 minutes a few times a day as the pain persists. While icing, raise your feet up for some elevation.

3. Adjust Your Workout Routine

If you are an active person, you may be causing your own misery, unintentionally! The balls of your feet can become stressed due to overuse or shock of your foot’s tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

If you’re not warming up before being active on your feet, we recommend adding this important pre-workout time to your schedule. Stretching and slowly awakening your ball of the foot can help to increase its range of motion and prevent injury. 

Even if you always warm-up, watch out for the frequency and intensity of your routine. We see a lot of long-distance runners with metatarsalgia or other foot conditions, surprised to learn that miles and miles of repetitive “low” impact can cause stress to the bottoms of feet. This ball of the foot pain is also common in tennis players who make quick hops and pivots across the court, as well as dancers. 

Remember that long hours on your feet can over time develop into chronic foot conditions— and metatarsalgia is no different. Try to limit your active time and intensity to grant your feet a proper recovery window.

4. Get the Right Footwear

Podiatrists admittedly do a lot of finger-pointing towards high heel wearers. While we know it’s a stylish look, any shoe that lifts your heel and shifts your weight to the front shoebox can cause ball of the foot pain. Even what seems like a “baby” two-inch heel may— with time and consistent wear— cause metatarsalgia-like symptoms. 

Even shoes you think are a good choice like padded sneakers still don’t help if they’re not the right fit. Shoes that are too big can cause slipping that may irritate the ball of the foot tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Same goes for too-tight footwear, which cramps and causes stressful rubbing and inflammation. Athletes in particular need to be extra mindful of wearing shoes with arch support as well.

Others with pre-existing foot conditions like hammertoes or bunions may need custom orthotics to guarantee a personalized fit. We often find that those with other foot problems develop metatarsalgia as a direct result of neglect treating their first condition.

How to Treat & Relieve “Metatarsalgia” Ball of the Foot Pain

5. Try Metatarsal Pads

Metatarsal pads slide over your foot or inside of your shoe and are designed to help spread the arch behind the ball of your foot. When they are properly fitted, these pads help to lengthen the tissue of the foot to avoid inflammation and to off-load body weight placed on the ball of the foot— helping with toe alignment.

In short, these pads absorb shock and reduce the pressure on the balls of your feet. They are not a replacement for properly-fitted footwear, but they can be helpful to wear if you’ve experienced ball of the foot pain before and know you’ll have an active day.

6. Achieve a Healthy Weight

We understand that weight can be a hard thing to shed, but obesity is the cause of a number of foot problems in our field. Not only can the excess pressure on the balls of your feet cause metatarsalgia, but obesity is linked with stress fractures, foot flattening, heel pain and more.

Even if you don’t fall under the obese classification, extra weight can cause inflammation in your feet. Setting a healthy goal to shed excess weight can help relieve many forms of ball of the foot pain.*

*Be sure to consult with your family doctor before making drastic adjustments to your diet or exercise regimen to lose weight.

7. Take Over the Counter Pain Relievers 

Popping a pill isn’t fixing the root of the problem, but it can offer relief and help enable the balls of your feet to heal. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or aspirin can curb the pain and bring down swelling associated with metatarsalgia. 

If you are very active, pain relievers may be something to chat with your doctor or a certified podiatrist about for specific recommendations on when and how much to take for safe relief. 

Pain Still Persisting? Get the Formal Diagnosis

While many of these at-home treatments can help with general foot problems, if your pain persists, it’s important you get a true diagnosis for your ball of the foot pain.

A foot doctor may take an X-ray to rule out a stress fracture, run a blood test to check for gout, schedule an ultrasound to look for neuroma or use an MRI to check for arthritis or other not-so-obvious injuries.

Give our team at Foot & Ankle Group a call at 239.936.5400 to schedule an appointment, today!

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