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Metatarsalgia

What is metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia means pain in the ball of your foot (the sole of your foot before your toes). This is where the heads of five long bones in the foot (metatarsal bones) are located.

Many things can cause metatarsalgia, including being overweight, wearing high-heeled shoes, having a stiff ankle or heel tendon (Achilles tendon), Morton’s neuroma, and having high foot arches.

What does metatarsalgia feel like?

The main symptom of metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of your foot. This pain may get worse if you stand, walk, or run on it. The ball of your foot may also feel sore to touch. Metatarsalgia typically develops slowly over time, rather than coming on quickly.

It can affect both of your feet at the same time.

Metatarsalgia symptoms can vary slightly depending on what is causing the condition. For example, if you have pain, swelling, and/or bruising that started after doing vigorous or repetitive exercise, you may have sprained a metatarsal bone.

Can metatarsalgia cause pain on the top of the foot?

Metatarsalgia generally causes pain where the heads of your metatarsal bones are. This is the area on the bottom of your foot, just below your toes. However, it can sometimes cause pain in the top of the foot.

How can you relieve pain from metatarsalgia?

There are some self-help methods you can try to alleviate metatarsalgia pain at home. These include:

  • taking non-prescription painkillers (paracetamol) - do not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have injured yourself in the last 48 hours as it can affect healing of injuries
  • resting your foot in a raised position whenever possible
  • placing an ice pack on the painful area for 20 minute periods every 2-3 hours
  • wearing shoes that have a wide fit, are low-heeled and have a soft sole
  • lining your shoes with pads or insoles (metatarsal pads and orthotic inserts can help relieve pressure on your metatarsal bones)
  • losing weight if you are overweight
  • regularly doing gentle stretching exercises

Avoid wearing high heels or shoes with pointy toes, and try not to walk or stand for long periods of time.

What is the treatment for metatarsalgia?

See your doctor for metatarsalgia treatment if the pain:

  • is severe enough to interfere with daily activities
  • is still painful after treating it at home for two weeks
  • continues to return and is getting worse

You should also seek medical help if you have tingling or numbness in your foot, or if you have diabetes.

Medical treatment for metatarsalgia generally involves treating any underlying conditions, like diabetes or arthritis. You may need surgery if you have a condition like hammer or claw toes, or Morton’s neuroma.

How long does it take for metatarsalgia to heal?

Depending on the cause and your symptoms, metatarsalgia can take weeks to months to heal.

If metatarsalgia is caused by lifestyle factors, you can make a few changes to improve your symptoms and prevent them from returning. For example, you can swap tight-fitting or high-heeled shoes for softer shoes with low heels and a wider fit.

If your symptoms do not improve after two weeks of making lifestyle changes, see your doctor. You may have another condition that needs treating before the pain gets better.

What shoes are best for metatarsalgia?

The best shoes to prevent or relieve metatarsalgia are wide-fitting, soft-soled and low-heeled shoes. High heels or tight-fitting shoes can put pressure on your metatarsal bones, leading to metatarsalgia.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.