Metatarsalgia: ball of foot pain symptoms, causes and treatments

Metatarsalgia, University Foot and Ankle Institute

Metatarsalgia is not so much a condition but a general term describing a group of symptoms caused by several conditions. It's critically important to get the right diagnosis in order to get a winning treatment plan.


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 Metatarsalgia is a term most often used to describe ball of foot pain. Other symptoms can include:

  • Pain in your toes (in addition to ball of your foot): can be described as aching, sharp or burning
  • Increased pain when walking, running, standing for going barefoot
  • Numbness or tingling in your toes
  • The feeling as though there’s a pebble in your shoe



Diagnosing Metatarsalgia


To determine the underlying condition of your pain, your podiatrist will exam your foot and ask about your activity level and associated pain. Because there are many causes of metatarsalgia, tests may be orderd to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. These tests can include:

  • Blood test: to identify diabetes or arthritis
  • X Ray: to check for fractures or problems with bones and joints
  • Ultrasound: to rule out mortons neuroma
  • MRI: in some cases, a more detailed image is needed to accurately identify the underlying condition



Causes of Metatarsalgia 


Conditions that contribute to metatarsalgia symptoms are not usually the effect of an acute injury or trauma. They often occur gradually, over time, by overuse or a repetitive motion.


Common causes of ball of foot pain can include:


Arthritis (Hallux Rigidus)

The inflammation in the big toe or ball of foot joint is a painful condition that may present as metatarsalgia.


Read more about hallux rigidus here.



A bunion is an unnatural bump on the side of the foot at base of the big toe. The tissue surrounding bunions often becomes painful and inflamed.


Read more about bunions here.



Hammertoe is a deformity of the toe that causes it to be permanently bent in a claw like position. The abnormal position can put increased pressure on the ball of the foot resulting in pain.


Read more about hammer toes here.


Metatarsal Conditions, UFAI

Metatarsal Stress Fracture

A metatarsal stress fracture is a tiny break or fracture in the metatarsal bone. A stress fracture is often an overuse type of injury that occurs of over time.


Read more about metatarsal stress fractures here.


mortons Neuroma

Mortons nueroma is a benign but painful growth of fibrous tissue.  The growth arises in the nerve cells and most often occurs between the third and fourth metatarsal.


Read more about Mortons neuroma here.



Nerve damage in the foot due to a diabetic condition may present metatarsalgia symptoms. 


Read more about diabetic nerve conditions here.


Achilles tendonitis

An inflamed or tight Achilles can change how stress is distributed throughout your foot and can lead to increased pressure and pain in the ball of the foot. 


Read more about Achilles injuries here.


Plantar plate injury

The plantar plate is the ligament at the base of your toes on the sole of your foot. If this ligament becomes inflamed or torn, the resulting pain is consistent with the symptoms of Metatarsalgia. 


Read more about plantar plate injuries here.


In some cases, it is a combination of more than one condition that is causing metatarsalgia sypmotms.



Treatment for Metatarsalgia 


Diagnosing the actual condition and cause of metatarsalgia is imperative when determining a treatment plan. Because there are many conditions that can contribute to metatarsalgia, and their treatment plans vary, proper diagnosis by a podiatrist is critical.


There are some conservative measures that may help relieve symptoms until you can visit a doctor. These can include:

  • Rest, ice, compression and elevation helps to reduce inflammation (called "RICE")

  • Wear well fitted, proper shoes when exercising

  • Take anti-inflammatory medication to alleviate inflammation and pain



UFAI, We Are Near and Here For You!


University Foot and Ankle Insitute, Metatarsalgia treatment

The team of physicians and surgeons at UFAI are pleased to offer services at nine locations throughout Great Los Angeles and Southern California. Our Santa Barbara, West Los Angeles, West Hills, Valencia Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, Manhattan Beach, Valencia, and Santa Monica Podiatry offices conveniently offer a full range of services including MRI, radiology, MRI, neurosensory nerve testing, ultrasound. This means you will rarely need to go from location to location if test are needed.


We are also please to provide state of the art surgical centers and physical therapy services at our Valencia and Santa Monica Podiatry locations. Our team of physical therapists is dedicated to return you to your full potential as quickly as possible. If conservative treatments are not effective, no other center can provide the level of surgical options and care for treatment of metatarsalgia symptoms.

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