What's the Meta with your foot? Metatarsalgia?

What's the Meta with your foot? Metatarsalgia?

Meta-what? Metatarsalgia. This is the medical name for pain in the ball of the foot. The term literally means "pain on the metatarsal" (there are 5 metatarsal bones in the forefoot). Metatarsalgia is not really a diagnosis, but rather a symptom, however, many doctors will call your condition by this term.

The pain that is experienced in metatarsalgia typically occurs in the ball of the foot (at the base of the second or third toes under the second or third metatarsal heads). It is often described as walking "on stones or pebbles" or on "a rolled up sock" in the front of the foot. The pain is often a deep ache and it is worse with walking on hard surfaces barefooted. It is also sometimes accompanied by a burning feeling extending into the tips of the second and third toes.

Common Causes of Metatarsalgia:

  • Activities like jogging that put repeated stress on the ball of the foot (This condition is commonly seen in runners and may be a result of improperly fitted footwear.)
  • Intense training or overuse (repetitive motion)
  • Ligament injuries and joint irritation from injury
  • Neuroma, a painful mass of nerve tissue
  • Abnormal foot shape
  • Calluses that affect weight distribution
  • Improperly fitted shoes (shoes that are too small)
  • High heels

Conservative / non-operative treatment options for metatarsalgia are often successful once diagnosed. The goal of non-operative treatment would include addressing the underlying cause of the symptom, diminishing the repetitive loading through the forefoot and trying to disperse the loading on the forefoot over a wider area. This can be done with a combination of soft padded, supportive shoes, metatarsal pads, gel insert or heel lift, activity modifications ( avoid any activity that puts pressure to the ball of the foot ), calf stretching and NSAIDS ( non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ). If the pain isn't getting better with conservative treatment, a podiatrist may do a cortisone shot first before discussing any surgical treatment.

Most of the time, with a proper diagnosis, rest and patience compliance with the non-surgical recommendations - metatarsalgia can start improving within a few weeks.

Written by
Dr. Jeffrey S. Hurless
DPM, FACFAS Board Certified Foot & Ankle Surgeon/Podiatrist
Medical Director, HealthyFeetStore.com

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