Metatarsalgia is a term used to describe a group of forefoot conditions that cause pain, burning or discomfort under the ball of the foot or in the metatarsal bones. Each foot has five metatarsal bones that run from the arch of your foot to your toe joints.
- Causes of Metatarsalgia
- Common Forefoot Conditions
- Pedorthic Treatment
- Pedorthic Pointers for Patients
Causes of Metatarsalgia
- Pain and/or burning sensation in the ball of your foot when standing, walking or running, which improve when you rest
- Sharp or shooting pain in your toes
- Numbness or tingling in your toes
Causes of Metatarsalgia:
- Intense activities
- Foot trauma
- Certain foot types such as high arches
- Foot deformities
- Fat pad deterioration (a thinning of the protective fat pads that cushion the balls of the foot)
- Excessive weight
- Improper fitting footwear
Examples of common types of painful forefoot conditions include:
Bunion / Bunionette
A bunion is a bony enlargement or bump located on the side of the big toe joint. This area is often irritated and made more painful by tight fitting shoes which cause pressure and friction on the area. A bunionette is an enlargement of the baby toe joint.
• The bunion or bunionette will often be red, swollen and painful
• Often a bunion may also have a corresponding shift of the big toe toward the smaller toes. This is called hallux valgus. The second toe may rest over the big toe
Hallux Valgus Deformity
This is a shift of the big toe toward the smaller toes. It is often improperly identified as a bunion, but frequently co-exists with a bunion.
• Not always symptomatic, but pain is often present with forced movement of the big toe joint
• The second toe often overrides the big toe (called crossover toe deformity) as the big toe shifts under the second toe
Hallux Limitus (HL) / Hallux Rigidus (HR)
Hallux limitus is limited or reduced motion in the big toe joint possibly due to bony changes in the joint.
Hallux rigidus occurs when the big toe joint motion ceases to occur because arthritic changes have caused pronounced degeneration of the joint.
• General enlargement of the big toe joint that is tender along the top of the joint line
• Pain is aggravated with increased weight-bearing activity
• A bony prominence on top of the big toe joint (called an osteophyte) may be seen on examination
• Pain during walking, especially as the foot pushes off
Morton’s Neuroma (interdigital neuroma)
A Morton’s neuroma develops in response to irritation, pressure or injury to one of the nerves that lead to the toes. A neuroma is most often found between the 3rd and 4th toes but can also occur between the 2nd and 3rd
• Pain, tingling, burning, and/or numbness beginning at the ball of the foot and often radiating into the toes
• Tenderness in the web space between the toes and there may be a palpable click when squeezing the metatarsals (long bones of the forefoot) together.
Metatarsal Phalangeal Joint Capsulitis
This refers to a local inflammation under the metatarsal head (ball of the foot) sometimes due to degeneration of the ligaments that stabilize the metatarsal head.
• Tenderness localized to the area under the metatarsal head
• Often feels like a stone under the foot which is worse when barefoot or wearing thin-soled shoes
Metatarsal Stress Fractures (march fractures)
A stress fracture is a small break in the bone caused by repetitive stress.
• Local point tenderness of the involved metatarsal is evident initially during activity and by squeezing the affected bone between the thumb and finger; may progress to pain at rest if left untreated
• Diffuse swelling and pain will increase as the injury progresses
This condition occurs from a lack of blood supply (avascular), which results in permanent damage to the bone tissue at the 2nd metatarsal head. The avascularity leads to eventual collapse and deformity of the metatarsal head.
• The dorsal aspect (top) of the metatarsal phalangeal joint (where the 2nd toe joins the foot) is sore with examination and worsens with activity
Pedorthic treatment may include:
• Foot and lower limb exam
• Custom-made foot orthotic or over-the-counter device
• Recommendation of appropriate and proper-fitting footwear
• Modification of footwear
To alleviate the pain caused by forefoot conditions, Canadian Certified Pedorthists recommend selecting footwear with:
- Wide, square toe boxes to allow proper room for toes and avoid friction on sensitive areas
- Low heels (less than 1″ or 2.5 cm) to reduce stress on the ball of the foot
- No stitching over areas where bones and joints are more prominent
- Thicker soles to help absorb shock
- Stiff, rocker bottom soles (shoes with thicker-than-normal soles with rounded heels) to help off-load the ball of the foot by reducing how much the foot bends during the push-off phase of gait
- Strong heel counters to help control foot motion
If you are experiencing foot pain or discomfort, you should talk to your physician or book an appointment directly with a Canadian Certified Pedorthist for pedorthic management including orthopaedic footwear, shoe selection guidance and orthotics.