Is Metatarsalgia The Cause Of Your Foot Pain?

Is Metatarsalgia The Cause Of Your Foot Pain?

If you’ve got pain in the ball of your foot, especially beneath the joints, then you may be diagnosed with a condition called metatarsalgia. Metatarsalgia isn’t a name for a specific condition, but instead is a general term that health professionals use to encompasses a range of potential forefoot problems, especially if pain is atypical and can’t be attributed to a specific condition like a plantar plate tear, neuroma or a turf toe, for example. The name comes from combining the area of pain - your metatarsals (the long bones of the feet), with the ‘algia’ suffix which means ‘pain’. Hence, the literal translation is pain at the long bones of the feet.

Despite being a broad term, metatarsalgia is very common - unsurprisingly because of the large amount of weight the joints at the ball of your foot take on. Every time you take a step, it involves your forefoot momentarily taking on your entire body weight (when the other foot is off the ground taking that next step). That’s a lot of stress and pressure for any joint to handle - and is why we’ve got to be doing our best to always support and care for our feet.

What Causes Metatarsalgia?

As metatarsalgia is a broad term, anything that overloads the ball of the foot - meaning exposes it to strain and excess pressure, may be a cause. This ranges from high heels to the physical exercise we do - to walking up stairs regularly as we spend more time on the balls of our feet doing this. It may also be related to our foot structure or function, like having a tight Achilles tendon, or from other foot problems like claw toes or a bunion.

If you suspect you have metatarsalgia, it’s important to see your podiatrist who can help identify the likely causes and create an effective treatment plan. Without this, you may fail to address the cause and suffer ongoing foot pain.

What Does Metatarsalgia Feel Like?

You may feel anything from a dull throbbing ache to sharp severe pains at the ball of your foot. Often the pain is localised to one (or more) joints at the forefoot, which will be tender to touch, swollen, red, warm or may feel bruised. You may also feel some burning or tingling if the nerves in the area have been affected. You’ll likely find it uncomfortable to walk, especially up stairs.

Who Is At Risk Of Metatarsalgia?

You may be more at risk of developing metatarsalgia if you participate in a lot of high-impact activity such as those that involve running or jumping, have a higher body weight, are older (as our protective pad at the bottom of the foot can thin with age), or have differences in the shape of your feet or toes that places more pressure on the ball of the foot, such as flat feet or high arches.

Treating Metatarsalgia

To effectively treat metatarsalgia, you need to both let the damaged structures heal by offloading them effectively, and address the causes so that the problem doesn’t keep coming back. This is often done through a combined treatment approach that may include physical therapy, foot orthotics, footwear changes, foot and joint mobilisation therapy, temporarily using specially-made pads or strapping, addressing muscle imbalances (weak/tight muscles), and more.

Your treatment is accompanied by a carefully designed plan that considers your unique circumstances - like how much standing and walking you have to do at work. We stay with you every step of the way to help you get back to pain-free living.

Helping manage metatarsalgia pain at home

  • If your forefoot feels inflamed, you can apply ice to the area for 15 minutes at a time, taking a break between icing sessions. Be careful not to apply the ice directly to the skin, instead wrap it in a tea towel or other protective layer. Alternatively you can place your foot in an ice bath for the same time, doing so a few times per day.
  • To help with pain, you may use non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to help give you some relief
  • Avoid any action that exacerbates your pain. This will likely include standing on your tiptoes, as you don’t want to risk further damage (and pain)
  • Keep your feet supported in good shoes, even inside the home. This can help reduce the stress on the damaged, painful area, and help reduce your symptoms
  • If you already have orthotics at home, wear them, and continue to do so if they are helping you get relief from your symptoms
  • Book an appointment with your podiatrist at PhysioCentral to start the journey of getting back to pain-free, comfortable living.