Metatarsalgia is a term for pain that occurs in the front section of the foot.

The pain can range from mild to severe and often gets worse when you stand or do certain activities.

It is sometimes described as a burning or aching sensation. You may also have shooting pains, tingling or numbness in your toes. Some people also experience a sensation that feels like walking on pebbles.

The pain often occurs in the area where the second, third and fourth toes meet the ball of the foot.

When to seek medical advice

As a first port of call, try the self-care techniques listed below.

If the pain doesn't improve, see your GP, practice nurse or health visitor. 

They can arrange a number of tests to check for any underlying problems that may be causing the symptoms - for example:

  • blood tests can be helpful for diagnosing conditions such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis
    X-rays can check for any fractures that may have occurred in the bones of your feet
  • ultrasound scans can often be useful in diagnosing bursitis, Morton's neuroma or joint conditions

If necessary, your GP can refer you to a health professional who specialises in foot care, such as:

  • a podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist)
  • a foot and ankle surgeon for further tests or treatment

Alternatively, you could see a podiatrist privately. Private fees can vary depending on where you live and the podiatrist's experience.

Read more information about seeing a podiatrist.


Most cases of metatarsalgia can be treated using self-care techniques such as:

  • RICE – this means rest, applying an ice pack, using a bandage to compress the foot, and elevating the foot
  • taking painkillers such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain
  • changing your footwear or avoiding activities that are making your symptoms worse
  • using shock-absorbing insoles, which can be fitted inside your shoes to help cushion the pressure when walking – these are available from pharmacies as well as sports shops (runners often use insoles to protect their feet)

Most cases of metatarsalgia respond well to self-care treatment. In rare cases, orthotic supports or surgery may be required to repair underlying damage to the foot.

Read about treating metatarsalgia.

What causes metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia occurs for a wide variety of reasons, but is often caused by increased pressure on certain areas. This leads to the soft tissues and bone being damaged.

Common reasons why people experience pain include:

  • wearing high heels or tight-fitting shoes
  • being overweight or obese (very overweight with a body mass index of 30 or above)
  • high-intensity exercise such as running, tennis or squash

Read about the causes of metatarsalgia.

Video: foot care

A podiatrist talks about the importance of caring for your feet and explains some of the most common foot problems and treatments.

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Can metatarsalgia be prevented?

In most cases, the answer is yes.

Wearing appropriate shoes for the types of activities you do regularly can help. For example, if your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, wearing high heels is not a good idea.

Similarly, if you are taking up running, buying a proper pair of running shoes is essential. Read more about choosing sports shoes and trainers.

If you have had previous episodes of metatarsalgia in the past, buying insoles to support your feet may help prevent symptoms recurring.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce pressure on your feet. Read more about how to lose weight safely.

Page last reviewed: 14/05/2014

Next review due: 14/05/2016