Metatarsal pads can be an excellent tool to provide relief from pain in the ball of the foot.
They may be more effective than insoles for metatarsalgia, as you can place them very specifically in the area where they’ll be most effective.
They’re also easy to buy at a store near you, not intrusive, and quite affordable.
But the question people ask the most about them is where to place metatarsal pads for them to be most effective at relieving pain.
We’ll discuss how they work and where to place them to relieve your ball-of-foot pain and get the best results.
What are Metatarsal Pads and How Do They Help?
Metatarsal pads—also known as met pads—are unobtrusive, cushioned orthotics that you place on top of the footbed or insole of your shoe. Met pads come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses for you to choose from.
They can be made out of a variety of materials, some common ones being open-cell polyurethane foam, gel, silicone, leather, latex, polyester felt, and wool. This allows you to choose the right amount of support for your feet.
When placed correctly, metatarsal pads reduce the pressure on the forefoot—ball of the foot—by distributing your body weight differently and reducing pressure on the painful spot. The reduced pressure on the metatarsal heads provides relief from pain and encourages the natural movement of your foot.
You may have to experiment with different types of metatarsal pads to find one that provides an ideal combination of support and comfort for you.
Where Do You Place Them?
For metatarsal pads to be effective, they need to be placed correctly in the shoe.
The met pads shouldn’t be placed directly under the ball of the foot, as this could actually make your foot condition worse.
Instead, you want to place them just behind the metatarsal arch—also known as the transverse arch. To start, examine your foot and find the bony metatarsal heads—toe knuckles.
Then, look for the soft part of the foot, which is immediately behind the metatarsal heads—behind the center of the ball of the foot.
The other way in which you can find where to place the metatarsal pad is to check your insole or foot bed. You’ll see slight depressions from the metatarsal heads or you’ll see wear of the material in your footbed. This indicates the exact position of the metatarsal heads.
You’ll then draw a line with a pencil, tracing the depressions, and then place the metatarsal pad right behind that line.
Depending on the type of metatarsal pad you buy, it may be self-adhesive or it could have a Velcro attachment. This will help keep the met pad in place when it’s correctly positioned so that the met pad won’t slide to the side.
There are also metatarsal pads that you stick directly to the bottom of your foot, which you may want to consider. These types of met pads may require a bit more trial and error when placing them.
You may also want to test them for an hour or so before using them all day, in case the adhesive irritates your skin or the incorrect placement causes pain.
How Do You Place Metatarsal Pads?
There are a few steps to follow that will help you place the metatarsal pad easily and in the correct position in your shoe or sandals.
As there are differences between your right and left foot, these steps will allow you to adjust the metatarsal pad if necessary. This will allow you to get the right fit for both feet.
The first step is to remove the inner sole of your shoe so that you can identify where to place the metatarsal pad. To help you with the placement, you can draw circles around the depressions of your metatarsals on the insole.
This will also let you see the “arch” shape—parabola—which the pad will be placed behind.
If your shoe has a footbed that’s not able to be removed, then you can use a pen to make a small mark on the spot behind the ball of your big toe.
Once you’ve located the depressions from the metatarsal heads, you’ll need to match the pad with the foot. The metatarsal pad should sit just behind metatarsal heads—the depressions in the insole.
You’ll then want to peel the adhesive cover on the pad back a little bit, using the end that would be closest to your heel. Place the sticky end of the metatarsal pad on the point that you’ve identified for placement and then place the insole back into your shoe.
Take a few steps around the room. If the pad has been placed correctly, then you should feel the pad pulling your toes downwards, towards the sole. If, however, you don’t feel your toes pulling downwards, then you’ll have to adjust the pad by moving it left or right or up and down.
Once you’ve found the correct placement for the metatarsal pad, make sure to remove the full backing of the adhesive and stick the pad down permanently.
Repeat the process on the other shoe, so that both pads fit and provide adequate support for both feet.