What Is Metatarsalgia?

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Metatarsalgia refers to pain and tenderness in the ball of the foot. This pain can be caused by anything that puts excessive pressure on that part of your foot, such as too-tight shoes or intense exercise, as well as various health conditions.

Learn everything you need to know about metatarsalgia, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Woman rubbing foot while jogging

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

Metatarsalgia Symptoms

The main symptom of metatarsalgia is a pain in the ball of the foot, also known as the metatarsal head. You might notice burning, shooting pain, a dull ache, or tenderness. The pain may worsen when walking, especially across a flat floor.

Other symptoms of metatarsalgia can include:

  • Numbness 
  • Tingling
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness


There are several possible explanations for persistent pain, pressure, and/or inflammation under the ball of the foot. 

Some of the causes of metatarsalgia include:

  • High-intensity exercise, such as running or jumping
  • Wearing certain types of footwear, such as high heels or shoes that don’t fit
  • A previous foot surgery or injury, such as a sprain or stress fracture
  • Unusual foot shapes and structural problems, such as flat feet and high arches
  • Morton’s neuroma, a condition that causes painful thickening around the nerve between the toes
  • Bunions, which cause hard, bony lumps on or around the big toe joints
  • Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and gout (a type of inflammatory arthritis)

Older people, people with diabetes, and people who are overweight are more likely to experience metatarsalgia. Any other deformity or condition affecting your forefoot (the front part of your foot), such as hammertoes (claw-shaped toes), can also increase your risk of foot pain.

Metatarsalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sometimes causes metatarsalgia. If you have metatarsalgia due to RA, your healthcare provider may recommend that you manage your symptoms with prescription medications like disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).


You can use several coping strategies to manage the symptoms of metatarsalgia. Self-care options include:

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication, such ass Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen)
  • Switching to lower-impact forms of exercise, such as walking
  • Applying ice packs to your foot every two to three hours for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Resting with your foot up
  • Losing weight if necessary
  • Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes with soft insoles

If your foot's pain persists or worsens, visit your healthcare provider. A podiatrist (foot doctor), physical therapist, or other specialists may recommend the following treatments:

  • Physical therapy, including ankle and foot exercises to relieve pain
  • Prescription orthotics (custom-made shoe inserts)
  • Very rarely, foot surgery

Shoe Modifications for Metatarsalgia

Studies suggest that foot orthotics, such as pads, cushions, and insoles, can significantly decrease the pain associated with metatarsalgia. In certain cases, other interventions like splints, shields, or toe spreaders can also help to relieve symptoms.


Metatarsalgia is pain in the ball of the foot. People with metatarsalgia may experience sharp, shooting pain or ongoing aches and tenderness. Common causes include wearing ill-fitting footwear, performing high-impact exercises, and having injuries, flat feet, high arches, Morton’s neuroma, bunions, and arthritis. 

Conservative treatments for metatarsalgia include rest, ice packs, over-the-counter pain medication, and wearing more comfortable shoes. Losing weight may also help to relieve the pressure on the ball of your foot. A podiatrist might suggest physical therapy, custom-made orthotics, or steroid injections if the pain doesn't go away. In very rare cases, surgery can help.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard, Health.com, Insider, Forbes.com, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.