Pain and discomfort from metatarsalgia can have a negative effect on your everyday life.
The good news is that it can be treated at home and making small but significant lifestyle changes can help to prevent it from progressing further.
But how long does metatarsalgia last and how do you know when it should be healed? The time frame is different for everybody, and it also depends on the steps you take to treat it.
Let’s have a look at metatarsalgia and how quickly you can expect to heal from it.
What Is Metatarsalgia?
Metatarsalgia is the medical term that’s used to describe pain in the ball of the foot. The metatarsals are the five bones in the middle of the foot, which connect the ankle to the toe bones.
These five bones play a vital role in the structure of your foot. The metatarsal bones give your foot its three arches—medial longitudinal arch, the lateral longitudinal arch, and the anterior transverse arch.
They work with the surrounding connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments as they propel us forward. Not only do they support your body weight, but they’re essential when you stand, walk, run, or jump.
Metatarsalgia is often an overuse injury of the foot, which is why you experience pain in the ball of your foot.
Metatarsalgia Causes and Risk Factors
Anyone can develop metatarsalgia and it’s often not caused by just a single factor. Usually, it’s a combination of the structure of your foot, daily activities, and lifestyle.
You may be at higher risk of developing metatarsalgia if you have any of the following:
Existing Foot Conditions
If you have an unusual bone structure in the feet, like high-arches, flat feet, or a hypermobile first foot bone, you may be at a higher risk, especially if you have a shorter big toe or a long second toe.
Foot and joint conditions like bunions, hammer toes, arthritis, Morton’s neuroma, stump neuroma, gout, and bursitis can all cause metatarsalgia.
If you have prominent metatarsal heads, tight Achilles tendons, tight toe extensors, or weak toe flexors, then you are at risk of developing metatarsalgia.
The biomechanics of your feet may put you at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia, especially if you overpronate.
Overpronation places excessive pressure on the metatarsals and can lead to your foot structure weakening. This can lead to you experiencing pain in the ball of your foot.
Working out in ways that put pressure on the metatarsal bones, like running or jumping, often leads to overuse. These activities place the ball of your foot under constant pressure, which can cause inflammation.
The repetitive motion can also irritate the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments around the bone, causing pain in the ball of the foot.
Our own body weight places pressure on the midfoot bones. But when we walk or run, the force that is exerted can be up to three times our own body weight.
If you’re carrying extra weight or you’re obese, this places the metatarsal bones under excessive pressure when you move around. This increased pressure will put you at a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia.
Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or don’t provide adequate support, shock absorption, or stability, can increase your risk. Shoes that have a narrow toe box or high heels place your forefoot under constant and acute pressure.
Our foot shape changes as we get older, and the fat pad in the forefoot becomes thinner. This then exposes the joints and the sensitive connective tissue to extra pressure and strain.
Due to this pressure, daily activities can cause micro-tears in the soft tissue, which causes inflammation and pain in the forefoot.
Injuries and stress fractures to the foot may cause you to alter the way you walk. This then changes how your body weight is distributed and how much pressure is placed on the bones.
This change can cause irritation to the soft tissue around the bones, causing inflammation and pain in the forefoot.
Symptoms of Metatarsalgia
Metatarsalgia develops over time and the main symptom that you’ll notice is pain in the ball of your foot. You may find that it gets better when you’ve rested your foot, but that it gets worse when you exercise, walk, or stand.
You may experience a sharp, burning, or aching pain in the forefoot—under your foot just behind your toes. It could also feel as though there’s a small stone stuck in your shoe, or your toes could go numb.
Most often, the pain and other symptoms can be felt in the area around the second, third, and fourth toes. But you may also experience pain in the area close to the big toe.
You may notice that the pain increases when you’re walking barefoot or when you flex your foot. Make sure to check the soles of your feet for any calluses that may have developed under the second, third, and fourth toes.
How Long Does It Take for Metatarsalgia to Heal?
There are a number of factors that can influence your recovery time. You’ll need to consider the severity of the metatarsalgia, your age, activity level, health, and if you’ve had any stress fractures.
If you have a stress fracture that’s causing the metatarsalgia, then it can take between 6 and 8 weeks to heal. Fortunately, stress fractures normally heal without any complications and you’ll be able to return to your normal activities fairly soon.
If you have mild metatarsalgia but no stress fractures, then it could take a few days to a few weeks to heal. If the metatarsalgia is severe, then it can take several weeks to heal.
To allow your feet to heal, you may need to look at activities you’re doing that could be making the metatarsalgia worse.
With that being said, if you continue with your activities and you don’t allow your foot to heal, it could take months for the metatarsalgia to heal.
When Would You Need Surgery?
In extreme cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat metatarsalgia. If it has progressed to the point where surgery is necessary, it’s usually for one of the following reasons:
- Metatarsal bones would need to be surgically realigned
- Treatment of painful calluses on the bottom of the foot
- You have non-healing ulcerations on the ball of the foot
- Individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis may require surgery of the metatarsals
- Fractured or broken metatarsal bones
Fortunately, in most cases, the surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. You’d need to avoid bearing any weight on the foot by walking or standing during the recovery process.
How Long Does It Take To Recover After Surgery?
After surgery, you’ll have to keep your weight off the foot. This will mean having to get around on crutches or using an alternative, like a seated knee scooter. This would allow your foot time to heal without the risk of further injury.
Depending on the type of surgery that was done, your doctor may fit your foot with a cast to protect it while it heals.
If the surgery was on the metatarsal bones, then the recovery time would take between 6 and 8 weeks. If the surgery wasn’t on the bones and it was to remove calluses, then the recovery time would be between 4 and 6 weeks.
The swelling in the foot can last up to 9 months after the surgery, but you should be able to return to your day-to-day activities, including training—as long as there’s no pain.
During your recovery time, your doctor may also recommend that you see a physical therapist to speed up the healing process.
Your physical therapist will give you some strength exercises for both your foot and lower leg. This will help reduce stiffness, increase flexibility, and it can correct muscle imbalances, which can prevent other foot conditions.
Quick Tips to Recover Faster from Metatarsalgia
Choose the Right Footwear
To recover from metatarsalgia, you’ll need to change your shoes. They should have adequate arch support for your arch type so that your body weight is evenly distributed.
The toe box should be spacious so that your toes can splay naturally, as this will reduce the pressure on the metatarsal bones.
If you’re going to add an orthotic, then make sure that there’s enough depth in the toe box so that the upper of the shoe doesn’t place pressure on the foot.
Look for shoes that have adequate cushioning, as this will reduce the amount of shock that your foot absorbs.
Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that have a heel over 3 inches high. These types of shoes shift your weight forward in the shoe, placing the forefoot under acute pressure.
You can wear shoes that have a low heel of 3 inches or less, as this will reduce the pressure on the forefoot. Shoes with a meta rocker design or that have a low heel-to-toe drop will reduce the pressure that’s placed on the bones.
Finally, make sure you are wearing good slippers for metatarsalgia around the house instead of socks or going barefoot.
Choose Shock-Absorbing Insoles and Additional Cushioning
Studies have shown that insoles are very effective when it comes to treating metatarsalgia.
For the best support, get an insole that’s semi-rigid and that has either a built-in metatarsal pad or a metatarsal ridge. The pad or metatarsal ridge will splay your toes and this helps to reduce the pressure on the ball of the foot.
The insole should provide adequate support for your arch type. This will support the metatarsal bones, which can prevent them from collapsing. It will also distribute your body weight evenly and keep your foot in its natural alignment.
To help stabilize your foot throughout the gait cycle, look for an insole that has a deep heel cup.
Track Your Body Weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight can prevent foot conditions like metatarsalgia. Being overweight or obese places excessive pressure on the foot and can affect your mobility.
If you are overweight, then try to exercise for 30 minutes a day. Look at your diet and see where you can make healthy changes and incorporate healthy foods. This can help you shed excess weight and can help you recover from metatarsalgia quicker.
Rest Your Feet
Rest and protect your foot as much as possible. This will mean that you have to limit any activities that are causing you pain for a while.
Look at incorporating low-impact activities, like swimming or cycling, if you want to maintain your fitness levels.
Gently massage your feet throughout the day, as this will help to alleviate pain, reduce stiffness, and promote healing.
When the pain has subsided and you’re no longer experiencing any pain when you walk, then slowly begin with your normal activities. Pay attention to how your feet feel before, during, and after the activity.
If the pain or discomfort comes back, then you may need to rest your feet for a little longer and allow them to heal.
Using compression can alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and promote healing. Get an Ace compression bandage to wrap the sore foot.
When you’re wrapping the foot, make sure to start at the toes and work your way up to the ankle and leg. Don’t wrap the bandage too tightly over your foot; it should be snug but it shouldn’t cause discomfort.
If the Ace wrap is too tight, you may experience numbness or tingling in the foot and you’ll need to adjust the wrap accordingly.
You can apply an ice pack to the area several times a day for 10 to 20 minutes. This will alleviate pain and reduce the swelling.
Make sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel so that it’s not directly on your skin. This will prevent any irritation or frostbite on the skin.
When you’re sitting or lying down, elevate your foot using pillows, so that your foot is above your heart level.
The elevation will help to reduce swelling and alleviate the pain. You can apply ice to the area while you’re elevating your foot.
Consult With Your Doctor or Podiatrist
You should see your doctor or podiatrist if the symptoms don’t get better or if they get worse after trying conservative treatment at home.
They’ll be able to diagnose if there’s an underlying condition that’s causing the metatarsalgia.