Condition, Metatarsalgia

What is Metatarsalgia? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Metatarsalgia is a painful condition that can happen when one or more of the joints in the foot are inflamed, usually because of repetitive pressure from overuse. It is characterized by pain in the ball of the foot, especially after walking for an extended period. Although it is more common among athletics, it affects about 1% to 2% of adults.

The ball of your feet hits the ground hard when you walk, run, jump, jog, or get involved in any great impact act; if this action is repeated, it puts your feet in the range of metatarsalgia. Often time, when people that get involved in jumping and running sports overuse their legs, they also put their feet in the range of metatarsalgia.

This article will explain the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of metatarsalgia.

What Are The Symptoms of Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia manifests itself as swelling and pain at the end of metatarsal bones which join your toes to your foot. Usually, the discomfort and pain become more extreme over time and severe when you walk, run, stand on hard surfaces. Here are some of the symptoms;

  • When walking, running, or jumping, you may feel like you are stepping on small stones
  • The pain can be a dull ache, burning feeling, or a very sharp one.
  • The pain is usually worse when you run, stand, walk barefoot, or engage in a high-impact sports activity.
  • You start to feel numbness or tingling in your toes
  • Sportsmen, especially athletes that engage in high-impact activity and have once had inflammatory conditions tend to have this pain.

Causes of Metatarsalgia

Generally, metatarsalgia pain comes as a result of too much pressure on one spot in the foot or slapping the feet on the ground during sports. Sometimes, metatarsalgia can be caused by a single factor; but most times it is caused by several factors including.

  • Excess Weight: In some cases, where a person with excess weight suffers metatarsalgia; the excess weight could be the cause. Because the body transfers weight to the feet during movement, the feet excess more pressure on the metatarsals; thereby causing metatarsalgia.
  • Foot Deformities: When the foot is deformed as a result of wearing small shoes, swollen painful bumps at your bunions and hammertoe can cause metatarsalgia
  • Intense Activity: Long distance runners and anyone who engages in high-impact sport tend to suffer metatarsalgia because the foot absorbs several weighty forces when they run. The risk even increases if they don’t have nice fitted shoes or a good insole. 
  • Stress Fractures: Breaks in the toe bones or metatarsals can be painful and can cause changes in the way you walk; thereby causing metatarsalgia
  • Foot Shapes: Having a high arch can exert more pressure on the metatarsals. So also, having a longer second toe than the first toe can cause more weight to be shifted to the second metatarsal; thus, causing metatarsalgia.
  • Poorly Fitting Shoes: Shoes like high heels, which exert more weight on the front of the feet are a major cause for women. Also, athletic shoes that lack support, padding, and good insoles can cause the problem. Another poorly fitted shoe like those with narrow toe box tends to increase the risk of suffering metatarsalgia
  • Morton’s neuroma: This painful condition affects the ball of the foot, especially the third and fourth toes. Moron’s neuroma is also a development of fibrous tissues around the nerves of the metatarsal head of these toes. It can lead to metatarsal stress, thereby causing metatarsalgia.

Who is At Risk of Suffering Metatarsalgia?

Almost everyone that plays high-impact sports that have to do with running and jumping is at greater risk of suffering metatarsalgia than every other person, even if anybody can have this inflammation. Other people who are at risk include:

  • Athletes who wear shoes without good support, padding, and insole.
  • People who wear shoes that are not fitted
  • People who are obese or overweight
  • Older people.
  • Women who wear high heel
  • People who have foot deformities

People who have inflammatory arthritis like gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis

Diagnosis of Metatarsalgia

After resting your feet for a few days or changing your shoes and the pain persists, you should visit your doctor. The doctor will examine you and make the diagnosis.

When you visit the doctor, it is most likely you are asked to walk so that your gait can be observed. The doctor will likely ask questions about the history, activities, and pain of your fee. Other diagnosis ways include:

  • An X-ray to ascertain it is metatarsalgia and not other stress fractures.
  • A blood test to check for the indication of gout through the uric acid test
  • A Magnetic Resonance Imaging test to look for the cause of pain in the mid-region of the foot and metatarsal. These tests include evidence of traumatic disorder, arthritis, circulatory conditions, neuroarthropathies, and other possible injuries
  • An Ultrasound test to create an image of the inner part of the body, checking for problems with soft tissues like neuromas or bursitis  

How is Metatarsalgia treated?

Treatment for metatarsals depends on the diagnosis of the doctor and the severity of the pain. Here are some ways metatarsal is treated:


Pain reliever’s drugs and Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), Oxaprozin (Daypro), Piroxicam (Feldene), Ketoprofen or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) can help relieve pain shorter period

Medical Treatment

  • Use a pressure bandage
  • Put ice under the injured foot
  • Stay off your feet for a while
  • Avoid high-impact activities for a while. Return 
  • Do little strengthening and stretching exercises: read the dedicated article with 15 exercises here
  • Wear a proper shoe that supports the arch and knee
  • Use special Insoles or inserts with the right support
  • Rest and do not further stress your feet. After a walk, lift your legs up
  • Wear a shoe with a wide toe box, good insole, and avoid heel shoes


Metatarsalgia is a painful condition that can happen when one or more of the joints in the foot are inflamed, usually because of repetitive pressure from overuse. It is characterized by pain in the ball of the feet. Most times, it is common among athletes because of the way their feet slap the floor.