Can Massage Help Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia can not only cause pain and discomfort, but it can interfere with daily life, especially if you’re on your feet a lot.

If you’ve been looking for remedies to your ball-of-foot pain, you may be wondering…

Can massage help with metatarsalgia?

A good foot massage can work wonders for relaxation and some foot conditions. Let’s have a look at if it can help for metatarsalgia.

What Is Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia is a common overuse injury that causes inflammation and pain in the ball of the foot.

The metatarsal bones—the five bones in the middle of the foot—work with the surrounding connective tissues to support our body weight.

They play a vital role when we walk, stand, run, or jump, but this makes them susceptible to excessive pressure and stress.

When the metatarsals are placed under constant pressure or if there’s a change in the foot’s alignment, this will cause inflammation and pain in the ball of the foot.


The pain of metatarsalgia may be felt across the entire width of your forefoot, or you may only feel it in a small area of the forefoot.

You may experience a sharp, burning, aching pain, or it could be a shooting pain in the forefoot. Some people may experience a tingling sensation or numbness in the toes.

When you walk, it may feel as if there’s a small stone that’s stuck in your shoe under your forefoot. You may notice that there’s an increase in pain when you’re standing, walking, running, or when you flex your foot.

Check the soles of your feet regularly to see if calluses are developing under the second, third, or fourth toes.

These calluses are caused by the metatarsal heads when they’re placed under excessive pressure.

Common Causes of Metatarsalgia

Anyone can develop metatarsalgia and it’s often not caused by just a single factor. But the most common cause of metatarsalgia is acute or localized pressure that’s placed on the ball of the foot.

This pressure can be caused by existing foot conditions, such as a hypermobile first foot bone, flat feet, high arches, or an unusual bone structure in the feet. You could be at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia if you have a long second toe.

Excessive overpronation causes abnormal weight distribution, which places the metatarsal bones under excessive stress and pressure. This can cause your foot structure to weaken, overloading the soft tissues, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the foot.

The soft tissues then become irritated and inflamed, causing pain in your forefoot.

Shoes that have a narrow toe box or high heels place your forefoot under constant and acute pressure. Over time, this will cause inflammation and pain in your forefoot.

That being said, wearing shoes that don’t fit properly, are worn out, or that don’t provide adequate cushioning and shock absorption will increase your risk of developing metatarsalgia.

Being overweight or obese can also place the metatarsal bones under excessive stress when you walk or run. This is due to the force exerted on the bones, which can be up to three times your own body weight. This increased pressure will put you at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia.

High-impact activities such as running or jumping place the ball of your foot under pressure. This often leads to an overuse injury and the repetitive motion can also irritate the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments around the bone, causing pain in the ball of the foot.

Foot and joint conditions like bunions, hammer toes, arthritis, Morton’s neuroma, gout, and bursitis can all cause metatarsalgia. But it can also be caused by injuries and stress fractures to the foot.

Both foot conditions and injuries will change the way in which your body weight is distributed and how much pressure is placed on the foot bones. The change in your gait—the way you walk—can cause irritation to the soft tissue around the bones, causing inflammation and pain in the forefoot.

As we get older, the fat pad in the forefoot becomes thinner—fat pad atrophy—which could make your metatarsal heads more prominent. This places excessive strain and pressure on the surrounding joints and the sensitive connective tissue, which causes pain.

What Are Potential Treatments?

The best way to treat metatarsalgia is to try and rest your feet as much as possible. Try to put your feet up regularly and avoid activities that make the pain worse.

This may mean that you have to stop some of your daily activities, like HIIT training or running. If you want to maintain your fitness level or training, then look at doing low-impact activities, such as cycling or swimming.

You could roll your foot over a frozen water bottle, or apply an ice pack to the affected area several times a day for 10 to 20 minutes. This will help to reduce the inflammation and alleviate pain.

Look at changing your footwear. Shoes that have a wide toe box will allow your toes to splay naturally. This will reduce the pressure on the forefoot. The shoes should also have extra depth so that you can use shock-absorbing pads or insoles, arch supports, or other orthotics in your shoes.

Do gentle foot stretching and strengthening exercises daily. This will help to strengthen the foot muscles, improve mobility, and it can help prevent metatarsalgia in the future.

Does a Massage Help Metatarsalgia?

Yes, massage techniques can help with metatarsalgia.

Research has shown that a massage—using specific techniques—can help alleviate the symptoms of metatarsalgia and other foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

The massage techniques used for metatarsalgia help to increase the blood flow to the feet. This increases oxygen and nutrient-rich blood in the foot, which promotes healing. It also increases the number of white blood cells in the area, which will help to heal the forefoot.

Research has shown that massage techniques are becoming more popular among physical therapists, sports therapists, reflexologists, and massage therapists.

Which Techniques Can Help and How Does It Work?

Thumb Sweep Method

The massage therapist will position their thumbs on top of the feet. Then they’ll use a sweeping motion, up and down your foot.

They’ll use their thumbs to apply a moderate amount of pressure as they stroke down each toe. Then, repeating the downward stroke motion with the thumbs, the massage therapist will move to the ball of the foot.

The massage therapist may continue this motion into the arch of the foot and heel. They’ll complete the massage with long, slow strokes over the entire foot.

Thumb Walk Method

With this method, your massage therapist will start at the bottom—by the heel—of your foot. They then use their thumbs to alternate with one another, applying a moderate amount of pressure, as they “walk” their fingers up your foot.

As they move their thumbs up the foot, the massage therapist is able to relieve stress that may have accumulated in the muscles and tendons. This helps to relax the tendons, ligaments, and muscles that could be causing pain in your forefoot.

Ball Method

Place a tennis or golf ball on the floor near your foot. Then place your foot on top of the ball, being careful not to apply direct pressure to the painful area. Then roll your foot over the ball so that it massages the bottom of your foot.

With this method, you’re able to control how much pressure you apply to your foot. To increase the pressure, you’ll simply push down, adding some of your body weight. To decrease the amount of pressure, you’ll lift your foot up slightly.

Roll the ball under your foot for 2 to 4 minutes on each foot. This will help to relax the muscles in the foot that become overworked supporting the toes.

American Massage Therapy Association, and Donna Shryer. “Well-Heeled | Massage Therapy Journal.” American Massage Therapy Association, 1 Nov. 2019,
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

Goud, Ajay, et al. “Women’s Musculoskeletal Foot Conditions Exacerbated by Shoe Wear: An Imaging Perspective.” American Journal of Orthopedics (Belle Mead, N.J.), vol. 40, no. 4, 1 Apr. 2011, pp. 183–191,
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

Myerson, M. S., and A. Badekas. “Hypermobility of the First Ray.” Foot and Ankle Clinics, vol. 5, no. 3, 1 Sept. 2000, pp. 469–484,
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

Nesbitt, L. “Correcting Overpronation: Help for Faulty Foot Mechanics.” The Physician and Sportsmedicine, vol. 27, no. 5, 1 May 1999, pp. 95–96,, 10.3810/psm.1999.05.868.
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

Physio_Pedia. “Metatarsalgia.” Physiopedia,
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

The Center For Morton’s Neuroma, and Janet D. Pearl, MD, MSc. “All about Metatarsalgia | the Center for Morton’s Neuroma.”,
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

Waldecker, Ute. “Plantar Fat Pad Atrophy: A Cause of Metatarsalgia?” The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, vol. 40, no. 1, Jan. 2001, pp. 21–27, 10.1016/s1067-2516(01)80037-5.
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021

Zhou, Ke-Lin, et al. “Effects and Safety of Massage Therapy for Patients with Metatarsal Pain: A Protocol for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Medicine, vol. 99, no. 49, 4 Dec. 2020, p. e23484,, 10.1097/MD.0000000000023484.
Accessed 14 Oct. 2021