Ball of Foot Pain
Does the ball of your foot regularly hurt? If so, you may be suffering from metatarsalgia, a condition in which the ball of your foot becomes painful and inflamed.
Could I Have Ball of Foot Pain?
Take a closer look at where you feel pain in your foot. Ball of foot pain affects these areas of the metatarsal region of your foot:
- Ball of foot
- Arch & Midfoot
Causes and Symptoms
To understand the cause of your ball of foot pain, it’s good to learn more about the metatarsal region of your foot. Touch the top of any one of your toes and trace the bone down to the center of your foot. Once past your toe bone (or “phalange”), your fingers will eventually trace a bone called your metatarsal. Attached to your toe bones, these five metatarsal bones help you stand, walk, and run by distributing your weight evenly to keep you balanced.
When your metatarsal bones are injured, inflamed, or abnormal, you might feel intense pain in the ball of your foot.
Common causes of metatarsal imbalances include:
- Bone abnormalities from genetic predisposition, disease (like arthritis), or injuries. One common abnormality is an overly long metatarsal bone.
A thinning out or shifting of your foot pad’s fatty tissue. The fatty tissue on the ball of your foot is there to absorb shock, but it can wear down as you get older.
A high arch or flat feet, either of which places abnormal pressure across your metatarsals.
- Hammertoes, which affects how weight is distributed across your foot.
Think You Might Have Ball of Foot Pain?
Identifying ball of foot pain may be difficult because it does not always hurt in a single localized spot. The following quiz may help:
If you feel pain in the ball of your foot, first see if the pain has these general characteristics:
- Is the pain sharp and shooting, or dull, aching, and burning? Ball of foot pain can range between these two extremes.
Is the pain localized to one area of your foot, or widespread across your entire foot? While ball of foot pain commonly hurts near the inside of your foot between your first and second toe bones, the pain can also spread to your entire foot.
Do you feel localized or radiated pain up your leg and down to your toes?
Do any of your metatarsal bones feel or appear inflamed?
Do you feel more pain as you put weight on your foot?
- Do you feel more pain when you walk barefoot?
Does it feel like you’re walking on a pebble?
Do you feel more pain when you stand on your toes?
- Do you feel more pain when running or jumping?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you show some key symptoms of having ball of foot pain.
Next, check whether any of the following conditions apply to you:
Diabetes can cause a condition called diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve-related pain in the foot.
Arthritis and other joint diseases may affect your metatarsal joints.
- Severe calluses and skin lesions can press upon your metatarsals.
Injury to your metatarsal bones, such as a stress fracture, worsens ball of foot pain.
Neuromas, which are enlarged nerves, may affect your metatarsal area.
- Obesity may apply too much pressure onto your feet.
Additionally, beware of various daily activities and shoe choices that make your ball of foot pain worse. Playing intense sports, especially sports that significantly work the balls of your feet such as jogging, can impact ball of foot pain. Wearing ill-fitting shoes, such as shoes with small toe boxes that cramp your toes, will aggravate and prolong ball of foot pain.
Treatment and Prevention
- Stretch your Achilles tendon and strengthen your foot muscles. These exercises help decrease the pressure on your forefeet.
- Use metatarsal supports such as:
Properly fitting, supportive footwear such as sneakers
- Metatarsal pads
Shock absorbing shoe insoles and inserts
Lessen any strenuous activities that involve placing too much weight on your feet, such as jogging or jumping.
Use icing or cold therapy
- Use anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Avoid shoes with high heels
What If Non-Surgical Treatments Do Not Work?
If non-surgical treatments do not work and your ball of foot pain continues to grow more severe, then you may want to consider surgery. For example, surgery may be the only way to correct a bone abnormality such as lengthening a metatarsal bone.
In extreme cases, ball of foot pain might require an exostectomy (cutting and removing a portion of the bone). Talk to your podiatrist and receive a complete foot examination before considering surgery.