Ball of foot pain, which is sometimes diagnosed as Metatarsalgia, is something that should not be ignored when it begins to flare up.
Whether you’re an amateur or professional athlete, or work in an occupation that requires long hours of walking and standing, taking care of the feet should always be a priority.
Being able to recognize the early signs and symptoms of metatarsalgia and knowing the most effective treatment approaches can help with long-term foot health, especially for those who live very active lives and depend on their feet every day.
What is Metatarsalgia (Ball of Foot Pain)?
Metatarsalgia is something of a coverall term for pain located on the bottom or ball of the foot that can have a number of different causes.
People dealing with this condition often notice pain and inflammation in the area of the foot directly beneath the toes. This happens to be the point that takes the most pressure when standing, walking, hiking, running, or jumping.
The joints just under each toe are known as metatarsals, which is where the name metatarsalgia is derived from.
For some people, a sharp pain in the ball of the foot will ease when sitting or laying down, only to return once normal activity is resumed.
Left untreated, it can be painful enough to disrupt day-to-day activities and sideline a person for a period of time.
Common Metatarsalgia Symptoms of Pain in the Ball of the Foot
Pain in the ball of the foot is incredibly common, and not every ache is a medical issue. It’s typical to have sore feet after a long day of standing, walking, running, or any other activity that puts stress on the body. After all, our feet hold us up.
That said, it’s important to pay attention to foot pain, especially if it lasts for more than a day.
Some common symptoms of metatarsalgia can include the following:
- Burning, aches, or a sharp pain in the ball of the foot, directly behind the toes
- Increase in the pain when flexing the toes, standing, or walking
- Pain that worsens when standing or walking barefoot on a hard surface
- Tingling or numbness in the toes
- A sensation of having something like a stone stuck in the shoe that’s causing discomfort, which is why it is sometimes called a “stone bruise”
- Symptoms that seem to disappear after a period of rest and then return with regular activity
What Causes Metatarsalgia (Ball of Foot Pain)?
There are a variety of factors that can lead to pain in the ball of the foot, and paying close attention to what causes metatarsalgia symptoms can help narrow down the reason and improve the chances of healing with treatment.
Metatarsalgia symptoms can be caused by some of the following:
- Poorly fitting shoes that are too small
- Regularly wearing high-heels that tend to focus stress and pressure on the metatarsals causing pain in the ball of the foot
- High-intensity physical activity, specifically over the long-term, can put a lot of wear and tear on the feet, especially if combined with improper footwear
- A stress fracture in the bones of the foot
- Having other issues with the feet, like bunions or an abnormal bend in the middle of a toe’s joint, called a hammer toe
- High arches or a second toe that is longer than the big toes
- A condition known as Morton’s Neuroma
- Arthritis in the foot may be a factor
- Being overweight can place extreme pressure or pain on the ball of the foot and sometimes leads to common metatarsalgia symptoms
Though pain in the ball of the foot area can definitely sideline a person for some time, it is a very treatable condition.
Understanding the various treatment approaches can help decrease the negative impact that metatarsalgia symptoms have on a person’s life.
While the causes and symptoms of ball of foot pain are usually much different from top of foot pain, many of the treatment methods are similar.
Metatarsalgia Treatment for Ball of Foot Pain
Getting a diagnosis for metatarsalgia will require a visit to a doctor or podiatrist. He or she will want to know about regular and recent activity, as well as a description of the ongoing symptoms.
The doctor may also request X-rays or other medical imaging for a complete visual review of the area that is experiencing problems to rule out other possibilities.
Common metatarsalgia treatment methods often include:
1. Resting the Foot
Resting the foot, especially early on, can allow inflammation and tenderness to dissipate while the area heals. This might mean avoiding intense activity for a period of time, though low-impact activities that do not stress the sole or ball of the foot may be acceptable.
2. Ice to Reduce Swelling and Ball of Foot Pain
Icing pain in the ball of the foot, either by putting your foot in a small ice bath or using a cold compress can help reduce soreness and swelling.
In fact, these first two treatment methods are part of a larger overall approach to pain and healing known as RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
While resting and icing the foot, it may help to elevate it on a pillow above the heart if lying on the couch or in bed.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Pain Medications
Over-the-counter Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can be effective for both reducing inflammation and pain on the ball of the foot.
4. EPAT / Shockwave Therapy
EPAT Therapy, technically known as Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology or simply EPAT, delivers short pulses of pressure waves to the ball of the foot to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation in the area.
This technology is also referred to as Shockwave Therapy, which is an abbreviation for Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy, or ESWT.
EPAT / Shockwave is a non-invasive and effective treatment method that has shown to speed up healing time while reducing down time from work, exercise, or other physical activities.
Because EPAT / Shockwave treatment is non-invasive, it can often be administered while a person continues to work or perform other activities while being treated.
5. Shoe Inserts for Metatarsalgia
Over-the-counter arch supports or custom shoe inserts for metatarsalgia are a good option for reducing stress on the metatarsal bones in the foot and may actually improve foot functionality.
A visit to the podiatrist or a sports physician will be necessary in the case of custom arch supports because they are made by taking a mold of the foot.
6. Managing Weight
Managing bodyweight is one way to reduce ball of foot pain, although it can often be difficult. Obviously, this includes regular exercise and a healthy diet, so it’s important to focus on activities that do not place undue stress on the foot while it’s healing.
Sometimes the weight we carry around, such as wearing heavy backpacks for long distances or carrying heavy objects at work, puts extra stress on the feet. A simple change in the amount of weight we carry, or the duration during the day can improve the symptoms.
7. Proper Shoes for Metatarsalgia
A simple Google search for “best shoes for metatarsalgia” brings up hundreds of results and recommendations for footwear that can help alleviate ball of foot pain.
Wearing proper shoes that match the work, exercise, or competitive sports activity you’re participating in can help keep feet healthy.
Also, don’t wait until old shoes are completely worn out before purchasing new ones. Depending on a person’s level of activity, new footwear is often appropriate about every six months.
Most of us take our feet for granted and we don’t realize how much of a pounding they take on daily basis until we can’t walk or perform normal activities due to an injury.
Taking care of our feet can be as simple as purchasing new shoes when needed, wearing appropriate footwear for each activity, and giving them a rest any time it’s necessary.
If an injury or discomfort occurs, see a doctor and use these metatarsalgia treatment methods for ball of foot pain to get back on your feet more quickly.