Foot pain can ruin everything from a run around the block to a day out shopping. Aches in the ball of the foot can be particularly hard to deal with as your entire weight has to roll onto your forefoot in order to move forward.
Pain in the joints just underneath the toes is called metatarsalgia. Doing certain exercises for metatarsalgia can often relieve pain, but also reduce inflammation that makes walking and movement difficult.
Read on to see the best exercises and stretches for metatarsalgia…
What is Metatarsalgia?
Metatarsalgia is when the metatarsal heads—the joints beneath the toe—are irritated and become inflamed and painful.
There may be tenderness in the ball of their foot or a burning or tingling sensation. Some people experience a shooting pain or even a numb sensation on the bottom of the sole of their foot before the toes.
There might also be a sharp, shooting pain when walking or standing, trying to stretch and flex your toes. This pain could feel worse if you’re walking barefoot on a hard surface or when you put weight on the foot.
Potential causes for pain
One of the most common causes of metatarsalgia is overuse, where the bones in the foot are placed under constant pressure.
For example, high-impact sports like running or jumping put the ball of your foot under constant pressure, which can lead to inflammation of the metatarsal joints.
Wearing shoes that are too narrow in the toe box, have a high heel—anything over 3 inches—or shoes that lack adequate cushioning can lead to metatarsalgia. If your bodyweight is transferred to the forefoot—ball of your foot—for extended periods of time, this will lead to metatarsalgia.
Foot conditions like hammer toe—downwards curling toe—and bunions can cause metatarsalgia. If you have calluses on the ball of your foot, this can put pressure on the structure and nerves around the metatarsal heads, which can also cause metatarsalgia.
However, Morton’s Neuroma is a foot condition that can cause metatarsalgia symptoms. This is because extra tissue develops around the nerve of the third and fourth toes, which can become irritated and inflamed.
People often experience similar pain and even numbness in the toes, as this condition places stress on the metatarsal heads.
What should I do straight away?
If you have metatarsalgia symptoms, the first thing to do is rest and elevate the foot. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to the affected area for 20 minutes.
This will help to alleviate the pain and reduce the inflammation. You can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory that will help to reduce the swelling, pain, and inflammation.
Treatment to eliminate metatarsalgia is to manage its symptoms
Give your feet time to recover, and this may require that you limit activities that cause you pain. If you’re following an exercise regime, then you should look at doing activities that are low impact—cycling or swimming—and don’t put pressure on the balls of your feet.
Your shoes will affect your feet and wearing the right type of shoes can help you to eliminate the symptoms of metatarsalgia. You should look at shoes for metatarsalgia that provide adequate arch support for your foot shape, with a spacious toe box.
Try to avoid wearing shoes that are too tight and narrow in the toe box. Sandals when you have metatarsalgia should be supportive and provide room for your toes.
You can look at using metatarsal pads that you place in your shoes, which will help to reduce the pressure that’s placed on the metatarsals.
You might also consider getting a pair of insoles that have built-in metatarsal and arch support.
Finally, do some stretching exercises, as this will help to relax a stiff Achilles tendon and strengthen the calf muscle.
This can reduce the inflammation of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles, as well as reduce the pressure that’s placed on the metatarsals.
Here are some good exercises to do
To help alleviate the pain while you’re recovering and to prevent metatarsalgia in the future, it’s important to do stretching and strength exercises.
Most of the stretches and exercises focus on the toes, ankles, Achilles tendons, and calf muscles. By strengthening them, you’ll be able to reduce the swelling over the ball of the foot, as well as restore normal foot function.
Stand 2 feet away from a wall and place your hands against the wall at eye level for support. Then take a step back with the affected foot and move your alternative foot forwards towards the wall.
Keep the affected foot’s heel firmly on the ground and keep your knee straight. Then slowly start to lean forward towards the wall—push your hips forward—until you feel the stretch in the back of your calf muscle.
If you want to target deeper calf muscles, then do the stretch with your back knee bent.
Make sure that you don’t stretch to the point where you’re in pain. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds and you can repeat the exercise three times.
Ankle flexion stretch
For this exercise, you may want to use a yoga block or a rolled-up towel.
Start by kneeling on the ground and place the yoga block or rolled-up towel a third of the way under the bridge of your foot—top of your foot with your sole facing upwards—and keep your heels together.
Then lean back until you’re sitting backward, making sure to keep your back straight. You should feel the stretch along the front of the ankle. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat the exercise 3 times.
Sitting in a chair, take the affected foot and cross it over your knee. Then hold your ankle with the hand on the same side— as an example, if it’s your left foot then your left hand will hold the ankle.
Hold the toes in your opposite hand and gently pull your toes towards you. This may be uncomfortable, but don’t pull your toes to the point of pain.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Achilles tendon – Stretch
For this exercise, you may want to place your hands on the wall or onto a rail to support yourself. Then stand on a step with your heels off of the edge and then slowly lower your heels until you feel the stretch.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and then lift your heels back up until they’re level with the step.
Repeat this 3 times.
Towel toe curls
For this exercise, you’ll need to be barefoot. Then sit on a chair and place a towel on the floor in front of you. Then starting at the end of the towel closest to your toes, start to curl your toes and use them to pull the towel towards you, as if you’re scrunching up the towel.
Do 10 repetitions of this exercise and once the towel is scrunched up, use your toes to straighten the towel out again.
Plantar Fascia Mobilization
You’ll need a golf ball, tennis ball, or a lacrosse ball for this exercise. Then sit in a chair and place the ball under your foot and rest your foot gently on it. Then, use your foot to apply pressure. You may feel mild to moderate pain. If you feel like the pain is too much, then reduce the amount of pressure on the ball.
Gently roll the middle of your foot back and forth over the ball—between your heel and forefoot. Take your time rolling the ball back and forth and spend a few more minutes in areas that are more tender or painful. But make sure to mobilize your whole foot.
Do this on each foot for 2 to 3 minutes.
Balancing on one foot while standing near a countertop
Use a countertop or a table to support you through this exercise so that you can maintain your balance. Then stand on one foot and make sure to maintain an upright posture.
You’ll want to hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat 3 times on each leg.
The softer the surface is, the more difficult it will be to maintain your balance, making the exercise slightly more difficult.
Heel raises while standing near a countertop
Start this exercise by holding onto the countertop with both hands and stand in an upright position. Then lift both your heels off of the ground until you’re on your toes.
Do the movement slowly so that you won’t aggravate the plantar fascia, but this exercise does work on the ankle and plantarflexion strength.
You’ll start by doing 10 repetitions for 3 sets once a day.
As you progress, with your strength increasing and the exercise becoming easier to do, then do repeat the motion but only lift one heel off of the ground at a time.
You’ll find that you’ll also need less support to maintain your balance and you’ll go from resting your hand on the counter to not holding onto the counter at all.