Although heel pain is probably the most common complaint we hear from patients needing help with aching feet, it’s far from the only spot on the sole that causes problems. Another common foot problem is ball of foot pain, also known as metatarsalgia. Although it sounds like a specific condition, it’s really just a catch-all term for painful symptoms localized just behind the bases of your toes—the word simply means “metatarsal pain.”
The Many Causes of Metatarsalgia
The most common explanation for ball of foot pain is basically temporary pain and swelling that stems from strenuous activity (especially high-impact sports that involve running and jumping), improper footwear, or being on your feet all day. These activities can stress muscles, tendons, and ligaments due to overuse.
However, a number of related foot conditions can also produce metatarsalgia symptoms. These include conditions such as Morton’s neuroma, a thickening of tissue surrounding a nerve near the base of toes, or an injury to the sesamoid bones in the forefoot.
Sensing the Symptoms
A classic case of metatarsalgia features pain and swelling in the ball of your foot—that is, on the bottom of your foot right behind your toes. Although it can happen suddenly, the discomfort usually builds slowly over time due to overuse.
The pain may be sharp or a dull ache; you may even feel a burning sensation or tingling. Generally speaking, symptoms will get worse when you put pressure on the area—standing, walking, and playing sports—and get better when you don’t.
Taking the Right First Steps
When pain and swelling strike, don’t keep pounding away. Get off your feet, or at least give them a break from whatever strenuous activity was causing your difficulties. For swelling, an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel can be a good solution. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, can also help if your doctor says you can take them safely.
What to Do When Stubborn Pain Just Won’t Go Away
If persistent ball of foot pain is making life difficult, especially if symptoms reoccur frequently or have lasted for a few days without improvement, give the experts at Family Foot and Ankle Center a call.
Our first step will be evaluating the foot to determine the cause of your pain. A digital X-ray or other imaging scan can quickly reveal whether a problem such as Morton’s neuroma, stress fractures, or a sesamoid injury are to blame.
Ultimately, the cause will dictate the treatment method. The vast majority of ball of foot pain cases, however, are solved via conservative measures. In many cases, simply a little bit of rest and ice combined with a switch to better, more supportive shoes designed to fit your foot type are all you need.
If you’re still struggling with painful symptoms even while wearing good shoes, you may benefit from metatarsal pads, arch supports, shock-absorbing insoles, or a custom orthotic to redistribute the weight across your foot. We’ll take measurements and help you find out which kind of insert would be most helpful.
In rare cases (such as with a severe neuroma) surgery may be the best course of action, but only in certain cases and after conservative options have been exhausted.
Stubborn foot or ankle pain discomfort you miserable? You don’t have to simply accept it. Call Family Foot and Ankle Center today to get help for your ball of foot pain. With six Greater Cincinnati offices to serve you, we’re in your neighborhood. Just dial (513) 728-4800 in Ohio, (859) 282-1572 in Kentucky, or contact us online to set up an appointment today.