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Metatarsalgia - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Published on Jul 23, 2021   -  4 min read


Metatarsalgia is a condition in which the balls of the foot are affected. Read more to know about the symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Metatarsalgia - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What Is Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is a condition affecting the foot, especially the ball part. It can be very painful, but still, it is common and can be treated. If you are a person who actively participates in sports activities especially jogging, running, and jumping, you may be affected by metatarsalgia. It can exist as a separate disease by itself or can co-exist with a syndrome.

What Are the Causes?

A single factor can lead to metatarsalgia, or it can be multifactorial too. The causes are:

1. Excessive Physical Activity: Athletes and marathon runners are highly prone to excessive physical activity. They might experience many muscle twitches. Runners are at risk of metatarsalgia because they tend to use the front portion of the foot more. The front of the foot absorbs a significant amount of force when a person is running. But everyone who participates in a high-impact activity is at risk. This gets worse, especially if your footwear fitting is poor or worn out.

2. The Shape of the Foot: High arched foot can put additional pressure on the metatarsals. So, having a second toe that is lengthier than the big toe causes more weight load than normal. This causes a high impact of force to be shifted to the second metatarsal head.

3. Foot Deformities: You should be very careful in choosing your footwear. Inappropriate size might cause all the ill effects. Wearing too-small shoes and high heels can cause your foot to lose its balance and shape.

4. Hammertoe: A downward curling of the toe is known as hammertoe. It may be painful.

5. Bunions: When some of the bones move out of their place, causing a bump, it is known as a bunion. This is most commonly seen in the big toe. It can occur in both males and females. Sometimes, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can cause bunions. There might be bone deformity and stiffness.

6. Obesity: When a person is obese, most of your body weight is transferred to the forefoot. When you move from one place to another, extra pounds might add more pressure to your metatarsals. Losing weight might greatly reduce or eliminate symptoms.

7. Poorly Fitting Shoes: When you wear high heels, it will transfer extra weight to the front portion of your foot. This is the common cause of metatarsalgia in women. Shoes with improper and narrow toe boxes or athletic shoes might lack support to the foot.

8. Padding: The padding of toes is done for the prevention of corn and others. It can also contribute to this problem.

9. Stress Fractures: Any small breaks in the metatarsals or toe bones can be painful and change the way you put weight on your foot.

10. Morton's Neuroma: It is a noncancerous growth. It consists of fibrous tissue surrounding a nerve. It usually occurs between the third and fourth metatarsal heads of the foot. It causes symptoms that are very similar to metatarsalgia. It can contribute to metatarsal stress and thereby causing metatarsalgia.

What Are the Risk Factors?

The high-risk factors are:

If left untreated, metatarsalgia might lead to pain in some other parts of the same foot or opposite foot and ache in other parts of the body. This might include such as low back pain and hip pain. There will be alterations in the body’s gait due to foot pain.

What Is the Diagnosis?

Diagnosis is achieved by clinical examination of the toes. Your doctor will examine the toes and will identify the location of the problem. Your doctor will advise you for an x-ray so that any fractures due to stress can be identified. X-rays serve as an excellent tool for diagnosing metatarsalgia.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Conservative Method: Once you start developing mild symptoms, you might need to follow conservative methods. This might involve resting, changing the shoes that you are currently using. Changing the metatarsal pad might be necessary. When conservative measures do not relieve the pain, it might signify that your metatarsalgia is complicated by other foot conditions such as hammertoe. In such cases, surgical options might be necessary to realign the metatarsal.

Home Remedies: To help ease your metatarsalgia pain, try these tips at home:

Rest: Protect your foot from any other injury. This should not be stressing your foot. Keep the foot in an elevated position for some time after standing or walking. You might need to avoid your favorite sport for a short duration of time. This might provide time for you to stay fit by performing low-impact exercises. This might include swimming and cycling.

Apply Ice to the Affected Area: Applying ice packs to the affected area for a minimum of about twenty minutes should be given. Perform mild circular motions while applying. This should be done many times a day. If your skin feels too cold, it might be necessary to protect your skin. Wrap the ice packs using stress.

Take an Over-The-Counter Pain Reliever: Try Ibuprofen, Naproxen sodium, and Aspirin to reduce pain and inflammation. Wear proper and ideal shoes. Avoid too-tight and too-loose shoes. Do not wear high heels. Wear shoes that are appropriate for the play. Use metatarsal pads for protection. These off-the-shelf pads are placed in your shoes just ahead of the metatarsal bone. It helps to deflect stress away from the painful area. Consider your arch supports. If insoles do not help, your doctor might recommend arch supports that can minimize stress on the metatarsal bones and joints and improve foot function. The arch supports can be purchased over-the-counter. They can also be custom-fitted.

Are you facing any of these issues? Call a doctor online.


Frequently Asked Questions


Is Metatarsalgia Similar to Arthritis?

Metatarsalgia is the pain in the ball of the foot due to compression of small nerves located in between the metatarsal bones of the feet. These nerves get impinged when the head of one metatarsal presses the other, leading to inflammation. Arthritis is a risk factor for metatarsalgia.


Is Metatarsalgia Dangerous?

Metatarsalgia is not so serious by itself. It regresses on its own, even with home remedies or self-help in the initial stages. However, inconsistency in following the remedial measures might cause serious complications. It may change the way you walk due to the changes you bring in your walking style to avoid pain. A compromised gait puts pressure on your knees, hips, and lower back.


What Symptoms Does Metatarsalgia Cause?

Symptoms of metatarsalgia occur in the toes. People complain of burning sensation, shooting pain, dull aching pain, numbness, and tingling sensation in their toes that aggravates upon standing, walking, and running. Sometimes they also feel as if a stone is stuck under their affected leg while walking.


Does Metatarsalgia Occur Spontaneously?

Metatarsalgia does not occur suddenly in most cases. They develop gradually over some time with continuous stress to the ball of the foot. However, rarely they can be of sudden onset due to abrupt jumping, running, and landing on the legs.


Does Walking Without a Footwear Cause Metatarsalgia?

Though walking barefoot does not cause metatarsalgia, it can aggravate the pain in an existing metatarsalgia and delay the healing process.


What Type Of Footwears Cause Metatarsalgia?

High-heeled shoes and undersized narrow footwears gradually tend to cause metatarsalgia due to excessive pressure on the feet.


How Should a Person With Metatarsalgia Walk?

People with metatarsalgia must consider flat shoes and flip-flops with a certain amount of cushioned soles to walk. High heels are not recommended. Correct fitting footwear must be worn. Normal walking can be done wearing a slipper or shoe but running, jogging, and jumping are strictly not advised. Also, after returning from a walk, legs should be placed in an elevated position.


Should a Metatarsalgia Leg Be Massaged?

Massaging the affected foot is found to be beneficial in healing. It improves the blood circulation to the affected region, thereby aiding in fast recovery.


Does Stretching Relieve Metatarsalgia?

Stretching the metatarsalgia affected foot can strengthen the muscles of that region, aiding in pain relief, recovery, and prevention of its recurrence.


Does Metatarsalgia Subside On Its Own?

Giving adequate rest to the affected feet, wearing correct fitting shoes or slippers, maintaining healthy body weight, and not indulging in high-impact activities like running and jumping helps resolve metatarsalgia on its own.


How Long Does Metatarsalgia Take to Heal?

Metatarsalgia takes two to three months to heal if proper treatment methods are followed. However, engaging the legs in high-impact activities soon after healing can cause its recurrence.


When Should I See a Doctor for Metatarsalgia?

Suppose you have worsening toe pain hindering your daily activities, excruciating metatarsalgia showing no signs of improvements with home remedies, and feel like there is a change in the shape of your foot. In that case, you must immediately consult a physician for further investigations and treatment. A podiatrist and physiotherapist will solve your problem.


How to Tape Legs to Heal Metatarsalgia?

Kinesiology tapes are used to tape metatarsalgia. These are stretchable adhesive tapes. Cut a 5-inch tape and stick it with 80% stretch over the ball of the foot in neutral foot position. Then cut a 10-inch tape and stick it with 50% stretch such that it overlaps the initial tape, extending over the bottom of the foot till the back of the ankle. This should be done in an upward-toe position.


What Treatment Methods Heal Metatarsalgia Fast?

- Pain medications like Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can be taken for pain relief.
- Avoid sports activities like running and jumping that put stress on your feet.
- Try to reduce your weight as being obese can impact the ball of your foot.
- Give adequate rest to your feet. Place them in an elevated position while resting.
- You can add insoles and cushions inside your footwear to minimize the pressure on your feet.
- Prefer adequate-sized flat footwear with soft and cushiony soles.
- Give ice pack compress over the affected area three to four times a day for 20 minutes.


Is Metatarsalgia Preventable?

The following tips help prevent metatarsalgia.
- Wear correct-sized footwear with enough legroom.
- Avoid high-heeled shoes.
- Minimize indulging in high-impact activities like jumping and running.
- Switch to low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling.
- Maintain healthy body weight.
- Regularly perform leg stretches and massage.

Last reviewed at:
23 Jul 2021  -  4 min read




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