Pain in the Balls of Your Feet

Your feet may not look too complicated on the outside, but inside they house a complicated network of bones, tendons, ligaments, and other structures that need to work together harmoniously in order to keep you moving about without pain. As a matter of fact, fully one quarter of the 200 or so bones in your body are located at the ankles or below. Ten of those (5 per foot) are the long metatarsal bones in the balls of your feet, which connect toes to the back of the foot.

When the metatarsal bones (or the nerves, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues surrounding them) hurt, the resulting condition is known as metatarsalgia.

Metatarsalgia Symptoms

The precise symptoms will depend on the underlying cause—a Morton’s neuroma, for example, will feel different from stress fractures or simple tissue inflammation. However, common complaints include pain (sharp, aching, shooting, or burning) just behind the toes that often worsens during periods of activity. You may also feel like a small fold or pebble is trapped in your shoe.

Metatarsalgia Causes and Conditions

Because metatarsalgia is a bit of an umbrella term that describes common symptoms, a wide variety of underlying conditions may be causing the discomfort. It’ll take a trained podiatrist like Dr. Danciger to determine the problem and prescribe appropriate treatments.

That said, many of the potential conditions share a common set of possible external causes, including poor shoe choices, existing foot deformities (like flat feet or bunions) that put extra pressure at the front of your feet, athletic overuse, or obesity.

Other specific conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Arthritis: Painful joint conditions such as osteoarthritis (“wear and tear” arthritis), rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory disease), or gout can affect the joints in the balls of your feet.
  • Morton’s Neuroma: A non-cancerous swelling of nerve tissue between the third and fourth (or sometimes second and third) metatarsal heads, near the toes. The swollen bump pushes on the nerve, causing discomfort or pain when bearing weight.
  • Stress Fractures: Athletic overuse can lead to tiny, hairline cracks in the metatarsal bones, causing pain and soreness when participating in sports.
  • Torn Ligaments or Other Damaged Soft Tissues: These may be the result of overuse or a traumatic injury.

Treatment for Ball of Foot Pain

In order to determine the best treatment methods for your ball of foot pain, Dr. Danciger will conduct a full examination to determine the underlying cause or causes.

The good news is that most instances of metatarsalgia respond well to conservative treatments, especially if you are proactive and seek help during the early stages of the problem. Dr. Danciger is particularly proud to offer his patients laser therapy, a revolutionary new technology that can significantly relieve pain from inflammatory conditions by stimulating your body’s own natural healing processes.

Other non-invasive treatment options for metatarsalgia conditions include giving yourself time to rest and heal, using ice or medications to deal with swelling, physical therapy, or switching to a more comfortable pair of shoes with prefabricated or custom orthotics to accommodate any pre-existing structural problems.

Sometimes, surgery to correct a deformity, neuroma, or other complicating factor is the best choice, although we’ll always exhaust conservative options first. If surgery is recommended, Dr. Danciger will carefully walk you through your options and the surgical process, and provide the coaching and support you’ll need to make the recovery process as smooth as possible.

If you’re suffering from pain toward the front of your foot, please give our office a call as soon as possible—far too many people live with daily pain that hampers their quality of life even though simple solutions from a trained professional are available. You can request an appointment online, or give our Palm Desert office a call at 760-568-0108.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle