Metatarsalgia is a type of pain that occurs in the ball of the foot, also called the metatarsal region.
The pain can range from mild to severe and often gets worse when you stand or move. It is sometimes described as a burning or aching sensation and you may have shooting pains, tingling or numbness in your toes. Some people also experience a sensation that feels like walking on pebbles.
The pain often occurs in the area where the second, third and fourth toes meet the ball of the foot.
Read more about the symptoms of metatarsalgia.
Most cases of metatarsalgia can be treated using self-care techniques such as:
Most cases of metatarsalgia respond well to self-care treatment. In rare cases, orthotic supports or surgery may be required to repair underlying damage to the foot.
Read about treating metatarsalgia.
Metatarsalgia occurs when something damages the long bones in the foot which connect the ankle bones to the bones of the toes. These are known as metatarsals.
Common reasons why these bones can become damaged include:
Read about the causes of metatarsalgia.
The most common symptom of metatarsalgia is a sharp, burning or aching pain in the ball of your foot. The ball of your foot is the area of sole just behind your toes.
The pain is worse when you walk or run, and feels better when you rest your feet.
Other symptoms associated with metatarsalgia include:
The symptoms of metatarsalgia usually develop gradually and get worse over time.
Try self-care techniques first. You can find these in the section on treating metatarsalgia.
If the pain doesn’t improve, see your doctor.
If necessary, they can refer you to a health professional who specialises in foot care (a podiatrist, also known as a chiropodist).
Alternatively, you could see a podiatrist privately.
Metatarsalgia is caused by damage to the metatarsal bones in the foot.
The metatarsals are five long bones that run underneath the soles of your feet. They connect your ankle bones to your toe bones.
The main purpose of the metatarsals is to support your weight when you are walking, jumping and running, specifically when you are pushing up with your feet.
However, the metatarsals can sometimes become painful.
Some common causes of metatarsalgia include:
Several medical conditions can cause foot pain, which often changes the way you walk. This in turn places excessive weight onto your metatarsals, triggering metatarsalgia.
These conditions include:
If you've tried the self-care techniques for treating metatarsalgia but your symptoms have not got better, see your doctor.
Your doctor can arrange a number of tests which can check for any underlying problems that may be causing the symptoms of metatarsalgia.
These may include:
Your doctor may also refer you to a foot specialist (podiatrist), who will examine your foot and may ask you:
Your podiatrist may also analyse your gait (the way you walk) on a treadmill or pressure plate to find areas of high pressure on the foot.
Most cases of metatarsalgia will respond well to a number of self-care techniques. These are discussed below.
RICE stands for:
After 48 hours of RICE therapy, stop compression and try moving the injured area. If, after this time, your symptoms are worse, seek advice from your doctor.
You can try the following measures to ease the pain of metatarsalgia:
If you have more severe inflammation (swelling) and pain, see your doctor or podiatrist, who may recommend steroid injections into your foot joints to reduce the inflammation. Steroid injections (corticosteroids) may cause some pain and swelling at the site of the injection, but this should pass within a few days
Read more about corticosteroids.
If all the above measures have not eased the pain, you may be referred to an orthopaedic foot surgeon for an operation to:
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.