You may or may not have heard of theconditionmetatarsalgia, but ifyou’ve ever experienced unexplained foot pain that affects the ball of your foot, it may be a condition more known to youthan initially perceived.Metatarsalgia is a common foot condition characterized by painful and inflamed feet, predominantly affecting the metatarsophalangeal joints - the portion of the foot between your arches and toes, commonly referred as the‘balls’of your feet.
In this article,we’re going to explain everything you need to know about metatarsalgia and how to treat it.Let’s get started!
What is metatarsalgia?
Metatarsalgia,also known asmetatarsal pain, is a common foot ailment that affectsan estimated35 percent of the adult population over 65. It is an overuse injury characterized by pain and inflammation across thebottomof the feet that can make it difficult to walk and function normally.
The condition may befleeting or may last for several months. Luckily,it’s not a serious condition, and can go away quickly with proper treatment and care, which we willcometo.
What is metatarsal foot pain?
If you are wondering whether metatarsalgia is the condition you are experiencing, it can be helpful to understand what metatarsal foot pain feels like, so you can discount other more serious conditions.
Metatarsal foot pain may be:
- A sharp or dull pain in the ball of your foot
- Similar to a burning sensation
- Worsened while walking orrunning
- Paresthesia - tingling or numb toes
If that sounds like something you are experiencing, keep reading to learn about what causes metatarsalgia and some effective treatments to alleviate metatarsal pain.
What causes metatarsalgia?
As mentioned, this isoftenan overuse injury. Thus, it is most common amongst athletes and people who spend more time than average on their feet - for example servers, builders, hospital workers or bartenders.
The repeated stress of your feet hitting the hard surface of the floor is the most common reason for this condition, and the harder the impact, the worse the condition presents. That is why athletes involved in sports that require jumping aremore prone to metatarsalgia - like basketball, running, or lacrosse.
However, there are other factors that may increase your risk of developing this condition,such as:
Footdeformities - As examined in a2014study published in theMedical Clinics of North America, bunions, hammertoe, mallet toes and other common foot deformities increase your risk of developing metatarsalgia. This is because these conditions affect your gait, and can put undue pressure on certain bones, leading to metatarsal abnormality and metatarsalgia.
Beingoverweight or obese- As summarized in a2015randomized controlled trial that examined the role of overweight and obesity in foot conditions,“even a modest weight loss significantly reduced the dynamic plantar loading in obese adults”. The connection is clear: excess weight puts more pressure on your feet, specifically the metatarsal area.
Improper footwear - According to asurvey, 90 percent of American women are wearing shoes thatdon’t fit. Anothersurvey found this figure to be 80 percent ofAmerican men. The result of wearing improper footwear is foot pain,deformities, and conditions like metatarsalgia. Improper footwear may be wearing shoes that are too small, too loose,lackingarch support, lacking shock absorption, narrow or pointed shoes that restrict thetoes, or heels.
- Natural foot shape - There are also risk factors for metatarsalgia that may be out of your control, like your natural foot shape. According toWebMD, this mayinclude prominent metatarsal heads, tight toe extensors, weak toe flexors,ahypermobile firstmetatarsalbone, or a short metatarsal bone.
But as with most medical conditions, there are always steps you can take (excuse the pun!) to treat thecondition, and feel like yourself again.
How toimmediatelytreat metatarsal pain
Metatarsal pain is the fundamental symptom of metatarsalgia, and so finding an immediate solution to alleviate this may be your main concern. Here are some top recommendations:
- Apply ice- Icing the ball of your foot can help toreduce the inflammation causing the pain. Do this for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Immobilization-Unfortunately, if your metatarsal pain is severe, you may have to take a few days off from your regular schedule. Limiting the use of the foot can allow it to heal without worsening the condition andincreasing your risk of bone and joint injury like stress fractures.
Compression- If the foot is swollen after icing, wrap the metatarsal area, compressing it slightly. This will encourage theswelling to decrease.
- Medication - In severe cases, you may be prescribed medication like oral steroids from your physician, or can takeover-the-counteranti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) to help treat the pain.
How to treat metatarsalgia and prevent it from returning
Treating only the symptom of metatarsalgia, metatarsal pain, is not along-term solution. If you want to prevent the condition from returning, you need to implement a few key changes.
1. Wear proper fitting shoes
Improper footwear will eventually cause you problems, whether that presents as metatarsalgia or another foot condition. Due to this,it’s widelyaccepted that wearing proper fitting shoes is the most effective way to treat metatarsalgia.
2. Adding insoles to your shoes
Custom insoles add arch support toyourshoes. This support is crucial because itoffloads and distributes peak pressure across the entire bottom surface of the foot, relieving the ball of the foot.
3. Stretching exercises
Stretching your feet regularly will help to alleviate metatarsalgia. Astudy that monitored the results of a 6-week stretching program found that it increased the dynamic passive length and properties of the calf muscle-tendon, which as summarized byPhysiopedia, is key for metatarsalgia recovery.
An example of a stretching exercise includes theachilles ligament stretch.
4. Strengthening exercises
Strengthening exercisesfor the foot and ankle can help to prevent metatarsalgia, specifically the muscles on the bottom of your footthat support the metatarsals. Strengthening exercises can help to encourage normal foot biomechanics and relieve the pressure from the ball of the foot.
An exampleof astrengthening exerciseincludestowel toe curls.
We hope thisgivesyouinsight into metatarsalgia and how you can alleviate metatarsal pain and gain mobility back in yourfootso you arefree to move!