Understanding Metatarsalgia: What You Should Know

If there is one thing that puts a chink in an athlete’s armor, it will have to be some form of injury. Can you imagine a runner who’s been training for the better part of his life suddenly needing to shelf their career or hobby? That can mean death to a profession or a total alteration of his or her normal activities.

However, even if some runners put their lives on hold following an injury, many still continue to run. That is despite the ailments they face such as lower back pain, sore knees and ankles, tight hips and hamstrings, and metatarsalgia. Don’t miss this essential guide to understanding metatarsalgia:

Metatarsalgia at its Most Basic

Metatarsalgia, which also goes by the term metatarsophalangeal joint synovitis or stone bruise, is a form of forefoot injury that’s common among athletes who engage in high-impact sports. Have you ever experienced the feeling of stepping on a pebble that seems to have gotten inside your shoe? That’s metatarsalgia for you.

You will think that only those whose sport involves plenty of running and jumping are most susceptible to forefoot injuries. However, while runners are most at risk of experiencing traumatic forces to their forefoot, even tennis, soccer, football, and baseball players are prone to the condition.

A retrospective study has shown that an alarming 74% of runners experienced some form of extreme forefoot injury annually.

Symptoms and Causes of Metatarsalgia

Whether you’re an athlete or not, you will know if it’s time to have your foot evaluated when you start feeling pain at the tips of your metatarsal bones. These are a group of long bones in your midfoot or the ball of your foot, or that padded portion of the sole of your foot just before your toes.

Between the metatarsal bones are small nerves, which can get caught in between the heads of metatarsal bones that press against each other mostly through overuse. When that happens, the nerves become inflamed, resulting in metatarsalgia.

The pain, which is sharp and burning, intensifies each time you walk, run, or put weight on the foot. Moreover, you won’t feel the pain in one fell swoop. It’s something that gradually increases in severity over several weeks or months, more so if persistent stress is applied to the affected area.

Risk Factors for Metatarsalgia

In addition to high-impact sports that can aggravate the condition, these other risk factors may also make you more prone to the condition:

  • Having a tight Achilles tendon

  • Wearing ill-fitting footwear

  • Having prominent metatarsal heads

  • Too much side-to-side movement of the foot each time you walk or run

  • Having a high arch

  • Having a deformed hammer toe in which your toe tends to bend or curl downward rather than point forward

  • Being overweight

  • Wearing high heels

  • Having inflammatory arthritis

When to Consult Your Doctor?

Most forefoot pains come and go. Nevertheless, when the pain becomes unbearable and starts impeding your daily activities, then seeking consultation from your doctor is a must. They will perform a few imaging tests to evaluate the condition to rule out other forefoot pains.

Your doctor may perform a bone scan to see exactly which parts of your foot are inflamed. An ultrasound may also be warranted to identify whether other conditions, such as bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, a lubricating liquid-filled sac between tendons, bones, and muscles), are causing the inflammation in the region of your metatarsal bones. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may likewise be requested by your doctor to diagnose other causes of pain.

Managing Metatarsalgia

If your metatarsalgia isn’t too severe, your doctor can recommend a few treatments to help you manage it. However, that will depend on the underlying causes of the condition. If your doctor rules it out as a simple case of metatarsalgia, then you may undertake certain conservative measures or try home remedies to alleviate the pain. These include:

  • Icing the affected area for about 20 minutes several times during the day.

  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

  • Using arch support to lessen the stress applied to the metatarsal bones and improve the overall function of your foot.

  • Wearing the right shoes (not too tight or loose) especially when engaging in physical activities or sports and avoiding prolonged wearing of high heels.

  • Using metatarsal pads to prevent stress on the affected area.

  • Resting and protecting your foot by not applying too much stress to it.

  • Engaging in recreational therapy like swimming while you’re not yet allowed to engage in weight-bearing activities

If these home remedies don’t work, the last recourse is surgery. Make sure to manage metatarsalgia at the earliest signs before things get out of hand. Understanding metatarsalgia and its nature can help keep you running for years to come.

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