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What is metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of your foot, near your second, third, and fourth toes.

What causes or increases my risk for metatarsalgia?

  • Playing weight-bearing sports, such as tennis or running
  • Wearing high heels, or narrow or tight shoes
  • Being overweight
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or gout
  • Foot deformities such as hammer toe or Achilles tendon problems
  • Trauma such as a tear in the area where you have pain, or a stress fracture in your foot

What are the signs and symptoms of metatarsalgia?

Symptoms usually develop over time, but you may have sudden pain from an injury. You may have any of the following:

  • Pain at the ball of your foot or near your toes that gets worse when you walk or stand, especially on hard surfaces
  • Pain during exercises such as running
  • Sharp or shooting pain in your toes that may get worse when you flex your toes
  • Tingling or numbness in your toes
  • Feeling like you are walking over rocks, or that you have a bruise on your toe
  • A change in the way you walk because you try to avoid putting pressure on the ball of your foot

How is metatarsalgia diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will examine your feet and legs as you stand and walk. X-ray, CT, or ultrasound pictures may show a problem with your foot, such as a fracture. You may be given contrast liquid to help foot problems show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. The cause of your metatarsalgia will be treated, if possible. You may also need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Ultrasound may be used to relieve your pain. Sound waves from the ultrasound can help send heat deeper into your tissues.
  • A steroid injection may help decrease inflammation.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. Surgery may be used to align the bones near your toes. You may also need surgery to fix a problem such as hammertoe.

What can I do to manage or prevent metatarsalgia?

  • Rest your foot. If you play sports, you may not be able to do weight-bearing exercises. Examples include swimming and bike riding. Ask your healthcare provider which exercises are safe for you.
  • Apply ice as directed. Ice helps reduce pain and swelling. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the pack or bag with a towel before you apply it to your foot. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Use a cane or crutch if directed. These devices may help take pressure off your foot while it heals.
  • Wear proper shoes. Do not wear shoes that are narrow or tight. You may need to wear shoes that are wider than you usually wear. Choose shoes that do not have a raised heel. Shock-absorbing shoes can help prevent injury. These shoes will have extra support under your feet and toes. You can also add shoe cushions inside your shoes or to the bottoms of your feet, near your toes. The cushions may provide more support and make walking or standing more comfortable. Arch supports may help take pressure off your toes.
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can put pressure on your feet. Talk to your healthcare provider about a healthy weight for you. Your provider can help you create a safe weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Go to physical therapy if directed. A physical therapist can help improve your strength and range of motion. The therapist can also help you improve the way you walk to prevent metatarsalgia from happening again. Your therapist can also teach you exercises to help relieve your pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You develop knee, back, or hip pain.
  • You have more pain or redness in the foot.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.