Metatarsalgia: A Complete Guide


metatarsalgia small introMetatarsalgia is a condition wherein the ball of the foot becomes extremely swollen, sensitive, and painful.

Like many foot conditions, it is not fatal or even particularly serious, but it can cause immense discomfort and lead to a person being confined to a chair or a bed for a day.

Fortunately, the condition is easily treatable.

We have written this guide to help those who suffer from metatarsalgia or those who know someone who suffers from metatarsalgia to better understand the condition and what can be done to make it manageable.

What is Metatarsalgia?

Simply put, metatarsalgia is a foot condition where a person will experience pain and swelling in the ball of their foot. A person with metatarsalgia may also experience intense pain and swelling in the area between their toes and the arch of their foot.

What are the Causes of Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is caused by the ball of the foot being subjected to high amounts of pressure regularly. This causes the muscles and ligaments in the foot to become damaged, which leads to swelling and pain. Some of the activities that can lead to metatarsalgia include:

High-Intensity Sports or Exercise

  • Doing things like high-intensity training or high-level sports (specifically ones like basketball or soccer, which require constant running) put a huge amount of stress on the foot. In small doses the foot can handle it, but if done constantly, the ligaments and foot muscles can get worn out easily.
  • Because of this, athletes are at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia (specifically long distance runners, sprinters, basketball players, and soccer players).

Poorly Fitting Shoes

  • Like a number of foot conditions, metatarsalgia can be caused by wearing poorly fitting shoes. The reason being that poorly fitting shoes result in more pressure being placed on the ball of the foot, which can lead to the development of metatarsalgia.
  • Women need to be especially careful, as high-heeled shoes are notorious for causing various foot conditions, including metatarsalgia.

Abnormal Foot Structure

  • Many people suffer from abnormal foot structures, such as flat feet or high arches. These abnormally shaped feet lead to more pressure being put on the foot when they walk or run.
  • If people with abnormally shaped feet do not wear special shoes or orthotic inserts that help alleviate the pressure on their feet, they could end up developing a range of foot conditions, including metatarsalgia.


  • Being overweight is not good for your feet, even worse is being obese. People who are overweight or obese will put far more strain on their feet and joints when moving around than those who are at a healthy weight.
  • This extra strain can lead to people developing a wide range of joint and muscle issues. Metatarsalgia is one of the many foot conditions that obese or overweight people are at risk of developing.

Other Foot Conditions

  • Other conditions that alter the structure or shape of a foot can also result in someone developing metatarsalgia. Bunions (small, bony bumps that usually appear on the joint of the big toe) and hammer toe (when a toe points downward as opposed to straight) are two-foot conditions that result in more strain being put on the foot when someone walks.
  • If either of these conditions is not corrected, they can result in a person developing metatarsalgia due to the extra pressure being put on the ball of the foot.

Symptoms of Metatarsalgia

The main symptoms of metatarsalgia are a pain in the ball of the foot and swelling of the general area. The pain is best described as a sharp pain. People have often compared it to walking while having a pebble or rock in your shoe.

Metatarsalgia Ball of Foot Pain

As with most foot conditions, the pain will get worse if a person attempts to do any serious activity (walking, running, etc.) while they are suffering from it. The pain is bad and it is serious enough that someone will probably have to spend most of their day in bed or on the couch to avoid making the pain even worse.

Treatment Options for Metatarsalgia

Thankfully, in most cases treatment of metatarsalgia is rather simple and requires very little, if any, intervention by a doctor. Most of the treatment methods can be done at home and at very little cost to the person suffering from the condition.

Over the Counter Pain Medication

  • If a person wants to reduce the pain and swelling, they can make use of any standard over the counter pain medication or anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen is recommended, but any over the counter medication will do fine.

Regular Use of Ice Packs

  • Icing a foot several times a day can help reduce the swelling and the pain caused by metatarsalgia. This also reduces the need to use over the counter pain medication.

Lose Weight

  • As was stated before, being overweight or obese will put more pressure on the foot, which can lead to metatarsalgia. So, if a person wants to prevent metatarsalgia from surfacing in the future, they need to make sure that they stay at a healthy weight.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

  • In general, people should always make sure that they wear comfortable shoes that give their toes ample room. But, people with foot conditions like metatarsalgia should take extra care to ensure that their shoes fit well and that they do not constrict their toes.

Use Orthopedic Inserts

  • Orthopedic inserts can help people with abnormally shaped feet to walk and run without putting extra pressure on their feet. There are even specific orthopedic inserts designed specifically for people who suffer from metatarsalgia.


Ball of Foot Massage

Hopefully, this guide has helped people better understand metatarsalgia. It should not require any intervention by a doctor and the symptoms will disappear if the methods described above are used. However, if you find that you are still experiencing symptoms despite trying the above treatment options, then you should immediately seek the attention of a doctor who can then refer you to a foot specialist.

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