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Metatarsalgia Stretches & Exercises

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT May 18, 2021 0 Comments

Metatarsalgia pain can quickly throw off the mechanics within your entire body. Try these basic stretches and metatarsalgia exercises for the foot, ankle and lower body to prevent painful symptoms from affecting your daily life. Keep scrolling to get started.

How Stretching & Exercise Help Metatarsalgia Pain

There are many great benefits to regular exercise when treating metatarsal pain. It is an essential component for any worthwhile treatment program. Some of these benefits include:

  • Increased blood flow to the foot and toes to promote adequate healing
  • Reduced pain and swelling
  • Increased flexibility within the foot, ankle, and lower body
  • Better strength and coordination for daily activities
  • Improved gait mechanics and overall quality of life
  • Great when paired with other treatment options

How to Treat Metatarsalgia

Stretching Exercises for Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia is often associated with stiffness in the toes, arch, and ankle. This section will focus on stretches specific to the lower leg and calf muscles to address these problem areas.

It’s also common to have stiff joints and muscles in the upper legs secondary to limping. Thus, general leg stretches for areas like hamstrings and glutes can also help significantly.

Toe Pumps

Boost circulation and loosen up any stiff areas in the toes themselves. You can sit in your bed with the legs out straight, on the floor, or even in a chair to get started. If you’re in a chair, make sure your toes are free to move in both directions by propping on your heels. Then, simply alternate between scrunching (flexing) and extending your toes. Move back and forth slowly until you notice the toes loosening up.

Repeat 20 times for 2-3 sets. Keep the move relatively pain free. To address other areas in the foot and ankle, you may also choose to also do some ankle pumps by alternating between pointing your toes and flexing your ankle (dorsiflexion and plantarflexion). 

Toe Flexor Stretch

This stretch specifically addresses those sore toe tendons that cross the ball of the foot (metatarsal heads). It can be especially helpful if you are experiencing a hammer toe in addition to metatarsalgia. Sit in a chair with the foot you want to stretch propped on the opposite thigh so that you can reach your toes with your hands. Then, dorsiflex your ankle (toes toward the shin) slightly as you use the palm of your hand to bend the toes back toward the top of your foot. Move until you feel a strong stretch in the bottom of the foot and hold.

You have two options here: hold for 30+ seconds each time or slowly move the toes in and out of the position for 15-20 reps. Repeat the option you choose for 2-3 sets. (Note: This is also a great time to reserve direction and stretch the toe extensors as you scrunch the toes too.)

Sitting Calf Stretch

Calf stretches can relieve ankle stiffness and help prevent issues like bunions and plantar fasciitis. Sit (in a chair or long sitting on the floor) with a stretch strap, towel or belt wrapped under the ball of your foot. Keep your knee straight as you pull the toes up toward the shin. You should feel a deep stretch in the back of the ankle at the achilles tendon and lower leg. Do not force the stretch into any pain.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg. 

Standing Calf Stretch

Stand near the back of a chair or the wall to get started. Bring the leg you want to stretch behind you as you step into a lunge position with both feet flat on the floor. Make sure both feet are pointing straight forward as you begin. Then, shift your weight into your front leg as you bend the knee. Keep the back knee straight and heel on the ground. Continue shifting forward until you feel a strong stretch in the back of the ankle and lower leg.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg. To address deeper calf muscles (the soleus), repeat the stretch with the back knee slightly bent this time.

Strengthening Exercises for Metatarsalgia

Once flexibility is addressed, it is time to start building strength and endurance of the ankle and foot muscles. This helps you maintain any flexibility you gain and boost your overall confidence in your foot as it heals. It’s always important to start small and see how your foot responds before progressing further. 

Toe Scrunches

This exercise helps build intrinsic foot strength in the muscles that helps stabilize the arch. Sit in a chair with a towel flat on the floor and both your feet resting on top of it. You will be using your toes to scrunch the towel closer to your heels. Simply lift the toes as they reach forward and curl the towel back. You may notice the towel moving if you have enough coordination, but if not that’s okay too. Reposition the towel as needed to complete the exercise.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total.

Marble Pick up

Grab a cup of marbles or other small objects (such as small toys, almonds, etc.) and scatter them on the floor below where you are sitting. Place the cup on the ground to the side of your foot as well. Then, pick one object up a time with your toes and place the objects back in the cup. Continue until all the pieces are picked up.

Ideally have 10-15 objects that you pick up 2-3 times total. This can be harder than it looks so take your time and have patience. 

Ankle Band Strengthening

Keeping the ankles strong and promoting blood will help with any type of foot trouble you are facing. Grab a resistance band for this one. This 3-way exercise will get the majority of your key ankle muscles working. Wrap the band around the ball of your foot and hold the ends with both hands. Then, point the toes as you push against the resistance band (complete a full set). Next, wrap both ends around the bottom of your opposite foot and hold the ends with the hand opposite to the ankle you are working. Then, move the toes away from the body as you evert the ankle (again, complete a full set). Lastly, cross your legs so that the foot you’re working is on top. Then, hold the band ends in the same hand as you push the toes slightly down and inward.

Repeat each move for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets for each of the 3 exercises. Keep the moves slow and controlled throughout.

Calf or Toe Raises

Also known as a toe raise, this exercise can be painful if started too early. Start with a small range of motion on a sturdy surface and build to a bigger range and standing on a foam pad with time. Stand near a chair or wall for balance, shift your weight into the balls of your feet as you lift your heels off the ground. Lift your heels as high as is comfortable while keeping them aligned with the toes (no excessive wobbling). Return with control to the starting position and repeat again.

Complete 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Build to single leg calf raises when you’re ready.

Single Leg Stance

Only start this exercise when your symptoms have substantially improved. Standing on one leg for balance has a lot of benefits for the foot and entire lower body, especially since we are essentially doing a small single leg stance every time we take a step with walking and running. You can start on the floor, but then grab a foam balance pad to increase the intensity as soon as you’re ready. Standing near something for balance, shift your weight into one foot and lift the opposite foot off the ground. For the foot still touching the ground, focusing on keeping the arch high (not collapsed) with the toes relaxed and outer foot touching the ground to prevent pronation.

Hold for 30-60 seconds on each leg for 2-3 sets. If you experience pain in a single leg stance, you can also start by balancing on the foam pad with both feet while focusing on appropriate form. With time, you can also build to other high level functional moves and balance, such as incorporating hip movements, arms movements, or even lunges.

Tips on Recovering From Foot Pain

Foot pain can be tricky since you probably spend time on your feet each and every day. Getting up and moving is essential for daily activities and staying fit and healthy. Keep these tips in mind to maximize your treatment and recovery.

Exercises to Avoid with Metatarsalgia Pain

There are certain moves that can be very aggravating to the metatarsal bones and ball of your foot. What you can and can’t do will depend on your fitness level, symptoms, and overall health. In general, avoid these exercises.

  • High impact activities like running and jumping- particularly if a stress fracture is present.
    Best Running Practices for Metatarsalgia Pain
  • Walking or standing in ill-fitting (footwear that squeezes the big toe or causes calluses), tight, or high heel shoes
  • Single leg balance exercise (until symptoms have improved)
  • If you have flat feet or high arches, avoid bare foot exercise initially
  • Any move that puts direct pressure on the forefoot, midfoot, metatarsal bones and ligaments

Starting Metatarsalgia Exercises

Consistent stretching and strengthening can help you efficiently manage your foot problems and pain at home. It’s best to always start with stretching and gradually build in strength specific exercises as you can tolerate it. With a gradual progression, you will be ready to take on the world pain and limp free with time. If you are unsure of where to start, don’t experience some relief within 1-2 weeks, or your symptoms suddenly get worse, get in touch with your podiatrist or physical therapist as soon as possible for further medical advice.


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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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