Metatarsalgia is a condition that affects the area of the foot that is found between the arch and the toes. You may also hear it referred to as a "stone bruise" and it typically occurs when the metatarsal bones become misaligned, which may be caused by the application of excessive pressure .
Metatarsalgia is experienced when two misaligned metatarsal bones push against a nerve ending and compress it. As you walk, the same thing happens over and over again, causing constant irritation, until eventually the tissue surrounding these nerves becomes inflamed. As a way of protecting these nerves, your body forms a layer of scar tissue around them.
If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from metatarsalgia, you will very likely feel a burning or stabbing sensation at the end of the ball of the foot, in the area just before the toes. It most commonly affects the area close to the second, third and fourth toes, and many sufferers claim it's a similar feeling to that experienced when you get a small stone stuck inside your shoe. The symptoms are intensified when you're on your feet, either stationary or moving, and it's only possible to feel considerable relief when the weight is taken off your feet. It is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of foot type (it doesn't matter whether you have flat feet, high-arches or anything in between) and it may start to affect you out of the blue, but it will typically start off as a pain you will probably dismiss as "insignificant" before gradually becoming worse over a period of several months.
In order for effective treatment, metatarsalgia must be properly examined by a medical professional and correctly diagnosed as early as possible. If this is done by your GP, in some cases they may send you to a podiatrist, who will likely examine your foot again and ask you a number of questions, including:
- Whether you've ever suffered from a medical condition or any serious injuries in the past.
- What types of activities you participate in and the kind of lifestyle you lead.
- What type of footwear you typically wear.
- When you first felt the pain and the specific areas that your foot hurts.
- The frequency at which you feel the pain.
- If the pain has intensified over time.
- Whether you are suffering from pain in other parts of your foot.
It's possible that after they have asked all of these questions and examined your foot, that you may be sent for either an X-ray, an MRI scan or an Ultrasound scan (or a combination of these scans), as this will provide further information about the condition of your foot. It may also be necessary to have a blood test done if it is suspected that you have an underlying health condition that could be causing or contributing to your metatarsalgia, i.e. gout, arthritis or diabetes.
Standard Treatment Options for Metatarsalgia
It may be possible to reduce the symptoms of metatarsalgia by making changes to the positioning of your foot utilizing custom built orthotic devices and customized insoles. Other standard treatments include corticosteroid injections and the use of longitudinal traction to provide more space for the toe joints that are affected.
Metatarsalgia Home Treatments
If for whatever reason you aren't able to visit a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms of metatarsalgia, it's advisable to follow the RICE plan. This plan involves the following:
R - Rest. This means you shouldn't do anything overly strenuous and you should try and stay off your feet as much as possible. The use of crutches or a walking stick can help to reduce the pressure you put on the foot if you do have to walk around.
I - Ice. It's a well known fact that the application of ice can help to ease swelling. Take an ice pack, wrap it in a towel and apply it to the affected area for approximately 20 minutes at regular intervals throughout the day (a maximum of 4 times).
C - Compression. Wrap a compression bandage around your foot to provide extra support and reduce inflammation.
E - Elevation. Don't sit down as you normally would. Try to lie down as much as you can, with a pillow placed under the affected foot to raise it above the level of your heart. This can help to relieve pain and limit the amount of swelling.
Continue following the RICE plan for a couple of days; if your condition hasn't improved at this point it is time to seek medical attention from a qualified professional.