Metatarsalgia can cause pain that can interfere with your daily life and just makes life unpleasant.
The first step to address it is to make sure you’re wearing the best and most supportive shoes for your feet.
But there’s more you can do to ease your pain and prevent the condition from getting worse.
Learning how to treat metatarsalgia at home can be valuable knowledge that means you may be able to heal it and prevent the need for more serious treatments like surgery.
Here are the home treatments we recommend for metatarsalgia.
Initial Treatment of Metatarsalgia
Metatarsalgia is a foot condition that starts off with very mild symptoms, which may be a minor annoyance.
But it can quickly become painful enough that it affects your everyday activities. Symptoms include severe pain, numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation in the foot.
It would be better to take action and start treatment immediately when you first notice discomfort in the forefoot. If left untreated and the condition gets worse, it could take a few months for the foot to heal.
Conservative treatment at home is very effective. In most cases, you’re able to alleviate the pain, reduce swelling, and restore your foot’s normal range of motion with home treatments. If however, you don’t get any relief from the symptoms, you should see your podiatrist.
Treating metatarsalgia at home will require some lifestyle changes, but these are easy to incorporate to provide long-term relief.
Recommendations of Home Treatments
The following recommended home treatments will help to alleviate pain, as well as reduce inflammation and swelling.
These treatments will often be recommended by your doctor and should help to reduce your risk of needing surgery.
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. It’s a common treatment for many different types of injuries.
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.
Once the pain has subsided, then you can slowly begin with your activities. Gradually increase the intensity of your activities. Take note if there’s any pain or discomfort during or after the activity, as you may need a bit more time to heal.
If you’re exercising or doing HIIT workouts, you may want to change to activities that are low-impact, like swimming or cycling.
Apply ice to the painful area, as this will help to alleviate the pain and reduce the swelling. The sooner you’re able to apply the ice pack to the painful area, the sooner you’ll find relief from the symptoms.
You can apply an ice pack to the area for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day. Make sure to wrap the ice pack—especially if it’s a gel pack—in a towel, so that it’s not directly in contact with your skin. This will prevent skin irritation and frostbite.
Use a compression bandage to wrap the sore foot and ankle. This will help to reduce pain and swelling and promote healing.
When applying the compression bandage, start by the toes and work your way up to the ankle and leg.
The compression bandage should have a snug feel but it shouldn’t be too tight. If you experience an increase in pain, numbness, or tingling, then the compression or wrap is too tight.
Elevate your foot while sitting or lying down by using pillows, so that your foot is above your heart level.
This will help to reduce the swelling and is also an excellent time to apply ice.
Strength and Rehabilitation Exercises
There are a few factors that can cause metatarsalgia, such as muscle imbalances in the foot, stiff Achilles tendons, or tight calves. This can place the soft tissue and metatarsal heads under excessive strain.
Strength and rehabilitation exercises can help alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and restore normal foot function. They can also help to reduce the pressure that’s placed on the metatarsals.
By incorporating strength and rehabilitation exercises into your daily routine, you can prevent metatarsalgia in the future.
Incorporate the following exercises into your daily routine:
- Plantar fascia mobilization using a lacrosse or tennis ball
- Foot intrinsic muscle—four layers of small muscles—strengthening
- Heel raises
- Calf stretches
Improve Your Balance
It’s common for people with poor balance to have weak muscles in the feet, ankles, knees, and hips.
By improving your balance, you’ll find that your body weight is distributed evenly throughout your foot.
This will reduce the pressure and load that’s placed on the forefoot, reducing the risk of metatarsalgia. To improve your balance, you can try the following exercise:
While standing, make sure that your toes are facing forward. Then squeeze your glutes together so that you can keep your hips in a neutral position.
Lift your right leg up, keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your left foot is fully in contact with the ground while you balance on your right leg. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite leg.
Add a Metatarsal Pad
You can use a metatarsal pad—also known as a met pad—as they provide additional support by distributing the pressure on the foot.
They help your toes to splay naturally in the shoe and encourage the natural movement of your foot. Metatarsal pads can provide pain relief, reduce swelling, and encourage healing.
Add an Orthotic
First, look for semi-rigid devices that have either a metatarsal ridge or built-in metatarsal pad. This will help to splay the toes and reduce the pressure on the forefoot.
The insoles should provide adequate arch support for your foot shape, especially if you have flat feet or high arches. This will keep your foot in its natural alignment, and distribute your body weight and pressure evenly over the metatarsal bones.
It should also have a deep heel cup, as this helps to provide stability throughout your gait cycle. The insoles will also help reduce the impact of shock as you walk or run.
Just know that your orthotics may not fit in your shoes, so it’s key to wear the right shoes for orthotics to have enough room.
Healthy Foot Hygiene
Take good care of your feet and take notice of any changes in your foot. Foot conditions such as Morton’s neuroma, hammer toes, claw toes, or bunions can lead to metatarsalgia.
If you’ve noticed that your toes or forefoot have changed shape—like with a bunion or hammer toe—then be sure to address the underlying issue.
Make sure to take care of any calluses or corns. You can soak your feet in warm water and file the corn or callus with a pumice stone.
Apply moisturizing lotion or cream to your feet every day and gently massage your feet while applying the cream.
Wear Proper Footwear
Avoid wearing shoes that have a narrow or pointed toe box, as this places your forefoot under constant pressure. Instead, look for shoes that have a wide toe box so that your toes can splay naturally.
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.
The shoes should have plenty of cushioning, as this will reduce the amount of shock that’s absorbed by the foot. Make sure that the shoe provides adequate arch support for your foot shape, so that pressure and weight are evenly distributed.
Avoid wearing shoes that have a high heel, as it will shift the weight and pressure onto your forefoot.
Instead, look for shoes and sandals that have a low heel—3 inches or less—or that have a low heel-to-toe drop, as this will reduce pressure on the forefoot.
Manage Your Weight
Research has shown that being overweight or obese can affect your mobility, due to the excessive pressure that’s placed on the foot.
Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent foot conditions like metatarsalgia. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and eat healthy foods.
Applying Kinesiology tape to your foot can help to reduce the pressure on the ball of the foot. This will also help to reduce the pain and swelling in the area.
The Kinesiology tape will improve your body awareness—proprioception—and increase blood and lymphatic circulation. It will also add an extra layer of protection to the ball of your foot by providing additional cushioning.
Kinesiology tape can help to bring your toes into the natural position, which will reduce the pressure on the metatarsal heads. This will alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and help prevent further injury.
To help manage the pain and reduce inflammation, you can use anti-inflammatory medications.
You can use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen—Motrin—Nuprin, Advil—naproxen—Aleve, or Naprosyn.