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What is Metatarsalgia?

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT May 23, 2018 0 Comments

Metatarsalgia, also known as ball of foot pain, is a common foot complaint that is characterized by pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot. Because metatarsalgia is linked to a variety of lifestyle choices and other foot conditions, it is generally considered a symptom rather than a disease. Runners, athletes, and people who have other types of foot problems have the greatest risk of getting metatarsalgia—although it can happen to anyone. Keep reading to learn more about metatarsalgia, including its causes, symptoms, and the many treatment options available.

What is Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is caused by overuse of the foot, poor foot mechanics, or too much stress on the metatarsal bones in the ball of the foot. The metatarsal bones are located between the ankle (heel bone) and toe bones (phalanges). Any pain felt in these long bones—particularly at their ends—is termed metatarsalgia.

Metatarsalgia and running often go hand-in-hand. After all, regular and intense running puts a considerable amount of pressure on the ball of the foot and the metatarsal bones. But foot deformities and tight or high-heeled shoes can also contribute to its development.

Metatarsalgia Causes & Risk Factors

Here’s what causes pain and metatarsalgia symptoms; including risk factors:

Existing Foot Conditions:

Lifestyle Habits:

  • A high level of physical activity; especially engaging in high-impact sports that include running and jumping
  • Carrying extra weight or obesity; which can create forefoot pain.
  • Ill-fitting or tight shoes (wearing high heels creates extra pressure on ball of your foot)

Symptoms of Metatarsalgia

The main metatarsalgia symptom is pain at the base of the metatarsal bones in the  ball of your foot. This pain may:

  • Come on over a period of months
  • Get worse when running or walking
  • Be sharp, aching, or burning
  • Improve with rest

Other symptoms that accompany metatarsal pain include:

  • The feeling that there is a pebble in your shoe
  • Numbness in the feet
  • Tingling in the feet or toes


To diagnose metatarsalgia your doctor will most likely ask about your medical history and look further into lifestyle choices. There are also a number of metatarsalgia tests available, including:

  • Physical assessment

    A thorough assessment of toe, foot, and ankle range of motion, strength and arch support will help with diagnosis. Plus, expect your doctor to do a lot of palpation in the foot to pinpoint problem areas. 

  • Gait Assessment

    This usually involves walking on a treadmill so the doctor can check your gait and see what areas of the foot are under the most pressure.

  • X-rays, MRI scans, and Ultrasounds

    These are some imaging tests that your orthopaedic doctor may use to check for broken or fractured bones in the feet. A bone scan can also show areas of inflammation.

  • Blood Tests

    A sample of your blood may be taken to test for conditions linked to foot pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and gout. It’s extremely important to see your healthcare provider for any type of foot pain that is severe or persists. 

Undiagnosed and untreated metatarsalgia can cause complications such as pain in other parts of the foot, as well as hip pain, lower back pain, and limping.

Metatarsalgia Recovery Time

Can metatarsalgia be cured?

The answer is yes, a full recovery from metatarsalgia is possible. With diligent at-home treatments, the use of foot orthotics, like insoles and arch supports, rest, workout modifications, proper footwear, and more you can protect your metatarsal bones and reduce pain.

It’s always best to prevent or treat your symptoms acutely to prevent onset of chronic more serious issues.

Learn More About Metatarsalgia Recovery

Stop Metatarsalgia Pain

While it’s not usually serious, metatarsalgia can impact your mobility, put a halt to your running efforts, and generally affect your quality of life. Luckily, metatarsalgia usually responds quite well to treatment. When you notice symptoms of foot pain or inflammation, be sure to rest and ice the affected area. For healthy feet and long-term metatarsalgia relief, invest in supportive and cushioned shoes, use shoe inserts and metatarsal pads, and regularly stretch and exercise your feet. For further foot support, also consider a round of physical therapy to get back to life as usual as soon as possible.


    Metatarsalgia Products


    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
    Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

    JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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