Did you know that one out of every four bones in your body is located in your foot? They may represent a very small percentage of your body in terms of size, but feet are very complex and tough. They have to be—without strong, flexible, dependable feet, you can’t walk, run, jump, or enjoy activities that depend on these simple skills.

Unfortunately, because feet are so complicated and have such a tough job, they can quickly start hurting if you aren’t taking care of them (or even if you are). Pain in the ball of your foot, also known as metatarsalgia, is one particular common problem, and although it has many potential causes, we can help you tackle it.

Symptoms of Ball of Foot Pain

The symptoms of metatarsalgia will vary somewhat based on the underlying cause or causes. However, common problems include:

  • Pain—sharp, shooting, aching, burning, or other kinds—just behind your toes.
  • Often the pain worsens with activity or when standing, and improves after a period of rest.
  • Occasional tingling or numbness in the forefoot
  • Feeling like a pebble or bunched up sock is trapped in your shoe

Causes of Ball of Foot Pain

As with many painful foot conditions, a wide variety of possible factors could be contributing to your discomfort—either independently or in combination. Although you’ll need an examination from a specialist to get a firm diagnosis, ask yourself if any of these sound like your situation:

  • Overuse. Running on hard surfaces or playing high-impact sports without enough break time to rest and recover in between can put extra stress on feet. In some cases you can even develop stress fractures (hairline cracks in the bone) from too much repetitive force.
  • Bad shoes that don’t properly support your arch or cushion the balls of your feet can contribute to the development of a painful foot condition.
  • Certain foot shapes or deformities make developing ball of foot pain more likely. High arches or an extra-long second toe are risk factors, as are existing foot problems such as bunions or hammertoes.
  • Obesity. The heavier you are, the more force is applied to the front of your feet when you shift weight forward.
  • Morton’s neuroma. This is a condition where a small, non-cancerous mass of tissue forms on a nerve at the base of your foot, between two of your smaller toes. It may feel like you’re standing on a pebble, due to the pressure the growth applies to the nerve.

Home Treatments

Not every case of metatarsalgia requires medical intervention. If you think your pain is linked to manageable lifestyle factors, such as overuse or shoes, you can try home treatments first and see if your condition improves.

Give your feet a rest for a few days, temporarily breaking from strenuous activity. Elevate your feet when sitting or reclining. Make sure you’re wearing good, supportive shoes. You may also consider trying an OTC metatarsal pad, cushioning insole, or arch supports and see if that helps. For the pain, try a simple painkiller or 20 minutes of ice.

Help from a Podiatrist

Pain that is significant or lasts more than a couple of weeks should be evaluated by an expert. Using our diagnostic tools, we can determine if there are any underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed, or if more aggressive treatment is warranted.

Most cases of metatarsalgia can be resolved non-surgically, but if what you’re doing at home isn’t working, we can provide stronger countermeasures. These include fully customized orthotics (which are crafted to fit your exact foot shape), ultrasound treatments, physical therapy, or cortisone shots.

Very rarely, if conservative options have been exhausted and pain is still significant, we may consider surgical options.

The good news is that, by making smart, simple adjustments, most ball of foot pain can be alleviated and you can get back on your feet again. If pain persists, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Keith McSpadden at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute. You can meet us in our Cedar Park or Round Rock, TX offices by calling 512-593-2949.