Forefoot pain can be caused by a number of different reasons. Not all of this forefoot pain falls under the specific diagnosis of metatarsalgia, but the metatarsals are often affected no matter what the cause of the foot pain is.
But whatever the cause, it can often be improved by using metatarsal pads. They’re easy to use, affordable, and highly effective at easing forefoot pain.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the best metatarsal pads for foot pain. Then we’ll cover the best ones available…
What are metatarsal pads?
Metatarsal pads—also known as met pads—are supportive, unobtrusive pads that are placed either in your shoe or under your foot—under the transverse arch—just behind the ball of your foot.
Met pads come in a variety of shapes, thicknesses, and sizes. These pads are often prescribed to people who experience pain in the ball of the foot to help relieve the pressure and the pain.
But metatarsal pads can also be used to realign over-extended toes to their natural position and support the metatarsal heads.
How do met pads work and relieve pain?
Metatarsal pads support the metatarsal bones and heads just behind the ball of your foot.
This reduces the pressure that’s being placed on the metatarsal heads by shifting the pressure to the shaft of the bones and allows the bones to splay naturally. This provides relief from the symptoms and the pain in the forefoot.
What types of foot pain can met pads help with?
Metatarsal pads work with the natural movement of your foot, instead of trying to control the motion of your foot.
By reducing the pressure and providing space between the foot bones, met pads can be used to address the following foot conditions.
Metatarsalgia is a painful condition caused by irritation and inflammation of the metatarsal heads. The term metatarsalgia can be used to describe the general symptoms of forefoot pain.
Tenderness may be felt in the ball of the foot, or one may have a burning or tingling sensation. Some people may even experience shooting pains in the ball of the foot, just before their toes.
There are small fluid-filled sacs near every joint, known as bursae, that cushion and reduce friction between the skin, tendons, bones, and muscles.
Your entire body weight is supported by your feet, and you’ll find several bursae in the foot to help absorb shock and minimize wear and tear. Bursitis is a painful condition that can appear suddenly or may build up over time.
Bursae can become irritated and inflamed if there’s excessive pressure on the foot. If you wear poorly fitting shoes—this creates pressure on the foot in the wrong places—and from overuse through repetitive, high-impact activities.
If the bursae are inflamed, your feet may feel achy. There may also be swelling around the joints or one can have stiff joints with a limited range of motion. One may even feel as though the affected area is warm and that the skin around it could be red.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes pain and inflammation in the joints and commonly occurs in the forefoot. If a joint is affected by rheumatoid arthritis in one foot, then it will affect the same joint in the other foot.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some people may only experience symptoms every now and then—known as flares—and then the symptoms will disappear for a while again—remission.
With rheumatoid arthritis, some people may experience a feeling of unsteadiness when walking, as well as joint pain, swelling and stiffness of the joint—or in more than one joint—joint deformity or even a loss of mobility and function of the joint.
Neuroma is a painful condition—also referred to as a pinched nerve—that occurs when the tissue around the nerve that leads to the toes becomes thick.
It most often affects the third and fourth toes, which then leads to pain, tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation in the ball of the foot or in between the toes.
Neuroma is most often caused by shoes that are too tight—small toe boxes—in the forefoot and one may experience more pain once you’ve taken your shoes off.
When you walk, you may notice a clicking sensation in the ball of the foot or it may feel as though there’s a small pebble in the shoe.
Plantar warts are small growths that appear on the weight-bearing areas of your foot, like the heel and ball of your foot.
This is the most common type of wart that will affect the bottom—sole—of your foot and while they can be extremely painful from the pressure of your foot, most times they aren’t a serious health concern.
Plantar warts are caused by human papillomavirus—the official name is verrucae warts—and the virus thrives in warm, moist places. It usually enters the body through direct contact with your skin, such as weak spots in the skin—on the soles of your feet—or through tiny cuts.
In most cases, warts naturally go away by themselves. But in some cases, they may require medical treatment.
What materials are used in met pads?
Metatarsal pads are molded or manufactured using a variety of different materials, including silicone or cork. But most met pads are made from the following materials:
- Open-cell polyurethane foam
- Polyester felt or wool
- Leather or latex
- Gel or silicone
Met pads that have open-cell polyurethane foam are often best, as these pads provide firm, long-term, hard-wearing cushioning.
If you’re looking for firm support, then a met pad that’s made from polyurethane foam would be best. But they’re generally covered in polyester felt, which can take a while to dry after being on your feet all day.
Wool will also provide firm support but it may be less durable in the long run.
Latex is soft and pliable and you’ll often find that leather is used to reinforce this material, which can provide more shock absorption. However, if you’re sensitive or are allergic to latex, then it’s best to avoid this product.
Gel and silicone met pads are often very flexible and are very often reusable as you can wash and wear them again. This helps to keep them clean and fresh, but they might not provide the firm support that you may be looking for.
What shapes are commonly used?
Metatarsal pads come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses, and this allows one to find the right level of support for your needs.
The most common shapes that provide the best support and relief are the following:
- Metatarsal dome shape
- U-shaped pad
Research has shown that met dome pads are more effective at reducing peak pressure, mean plantar pressure, and providing the best balance in the foot and pain relief.
The U-shaped met pads were the second most effective shape to reduce the pressure in the foot, as well as provide pain relief.
Both the met dome and U-shape have been shown to be the most comfortable shape worn by users.
How do the pads stay in place?
Met pads come with a variety of ways to keep them in place, but these are the most common ways:
- Self-adhesive tape to stick to the bottom of your foot
- Self-adhesive tape that sticks to the top of the insole inside the shoe
- Velcro attachments underneath the insole
- Slip-on straps that have contoured fabric with a soft fabric strap to keep the pad in place
What met pads are recommended?
Regardless of what brand of metatarsal pads you go with, it’s going to take some trial and error to get the right location.
The best metatarsal pads are the ones that attach to the insole of your shoes—self-adhesive or velcro—as they’re easy to adjust by using your insole as guidance.
This should also reduce the amount of adjusting that you’d need to do, as not all adhesive is created equal. Some—especially those that stick to your skin—may not be sweat-resistant.
1. Tread Labs Metatarsal Pads
Tread Labs makes excellent insoles, and their metatarsal pads are premium-quality too. They’re designed to be used with Tread Labs insoles, but they can be effective in any shoe or on any insole, as long as you can find a way to attach them securely.
These metatarsal pads are made of open-cell polyurethane foam. They have a Velcro-type backing, which attaches securely onto Tread Labs’ insoles Velcro sections.
If you don’t have a Tread Labs insole, you could attach a small piece of Velcro to your insole and attach these or any other kind of adhesive.
You will get 2 metatarsal pads when you purchase—one for each foot. They’re available in three different thicknesses—2mm, 4mm, and 6mm.
- Comes in a pack of 2
- Compatible with all shoes/insoles
- Available in 3 different sizes
- Open-cell polyurethane foam
- It may be more difficult to use these if you aren’t using a Tread Labs insole
2. Mars Med Supply Metatarsal Felt Foot Pad Skived Cut
These metatarsal pads are more universally compatible with all shoes and insoles.
They’re dome-shaped, which is the most effective shape for relieving pain in the forefoot. They are a good size, at 2.25 x 2.75 inches and have a beveled edge for comfort and pressure relief.
Self-adhesive backing allows you to position the metatarsal pad in the right place and keep it secure as your foot rests on it.
When your forefoot is on this metatarsal pad, it helps the metatarsal heads to splay naturally and relieves pressure and inflammation. You can secure it either to your insole or directly to the ball of your foot.
You will get 6 pairs of metatarsal pads in the pack when you buy. They may leave a sticky residue on your shoe or on your foot.
- Self-adhesive backing
- Skived cut design
- 2.25 inches wide and 2.75 inches long
- ¼ inch thick
- Some people may find that these pads leave a sticky residue
3. Temiart Felt Metatarsal Pads
You can buy these metatarsal pads in a pack of 6, 12, or 18 depending on how quickly you go through them. This is ideal if you prefer to stick the metatarsal pad directly onto your foot, as they may not last for as many uses.
They are made from soft wool felt with 3M adhesive on the back, ensuring that they stay in place and remain comfortable even when worn for extended periods of time. They can be placed either on the foot or inside your shoe and both positions will offer the same relief.
The company also offers a money-back guarantee. If these metatarsal pads don’t work for you, they will give you your money back, so you have nothing to lose with these pads.
- Made with wool felt
- Uses 3M adhesive
- Can be used in most shoes
- Soft and flexible
- Removing the 3M backing can be difficult
4. Copper Compression Metatarsal Pads
These are slip-on metatarsal pads that offer compression to the forefoot to alleviate pain and metatarsal pressure. Just slip them over your toes and they cushion the entire forefoot with soft gel.
The nylon fibers are infused with copper, which increases the durability of the metatarsal pads. They are also moisture-wicking and anti-odor so they’ll keep your feet fresh while supporting and relieving your pain.
A low-profile design means you can wear them in any shoes without needing to worry about adhesive or stickiness.
Although they do offer compression to stimulate blood flow and heal the metatarsal area, there’s a chance that they may move or slide up when wearing them and would need to be adjusted.
- Soft gel cushioning
- Slip-on pads
- Copper-infused, contoured fabric
- Some may find that this metatarsal pad slides in the shoe or socks and needs to be readjusted
Best Gel Pads
5. PediFix Pedi-GEL Ball-of-Foot Pads
Gel is excellent padding for shock absorption and comfort. These metatarsal pads are thin enough to provide relief from forefoot pain without being obtrusive. They should fit comfortably in any shoes.
You can stick the self-adhesive pad to your insoles or directly onto the skin of your foot. Although these pads are washable and reusable, the adhesive may wear away if washed often. You only get one pair per purchase.
- Soft, gel cushioning
- Washable and reusable
- Self-sticking pads
- Thin design
- The adhesive may wear away after a few washes
6. ZenToes U-Shaped Felt Callus Pads
After dome-shaped, the U-shaped metatarsal pads are the most effective for relieving forefoot pain. These U-shaped pads are ⅛-inch thick, and 1.9 x 2 inches in size—at its widest point.
They’re made out of medical-grade felt, which is soft and comfortable. As well as supporting the metatarsals, they also reduce friction and help to protect sensitive areas, especially if one has calluses or is prone to developing them. They can also be trimmed to fit your foot properly.
Their self-adhesive backing sticks easily to your foot or shoe. With 24 pads in one pack, these are great value.
- Medical-grade felt cushions
- ⅛-inch thick
- Pads can be trimmed
- Versatile U-shaped pads
- Some people may find it difficult to remove the adhesive from their skin