Pain in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia)

Pain in the ball of your foot is known as metatarsalgia. The symptoms can often be eased with treatments you can try yourself.

Check if it's metatarsalgia

Symptoms of metatarsalgia include:

  • a shooting, stabbing or burning pain
  • feeling like a small stone is stuck under your foot

The symptoms may also affect 1 or 2 of your toes.

They're often worse when you move your foot, stand, or wear tight, pointy or high-heeled shoes.

How you can ease the pain yourself

If you go to a GP, they'll usually suggest you try these things first:

Do

  • rest and raise your foot when you can
  • hold an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) in a towel on the painful area for up to 20 minutes every few hours
  • take ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • wear wide, comfortable shoes with a low heel and soft sole
  • use soft insoles or pads you put in your shoes
  • try to lose weight if you're overweight

Don't

  • do not walk or stand for long periods
  • do not wear high heels or tight, pointy shoes

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • the best painkiller to take
  • soft pads or insoles for your shoes – ask for metatarsal pads
  • if you need to see a GP

See a GP if:

  • the pain is severe or stopping you doing your normal activities
  • the pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
  • the pain hasn't improved after treating it yourself for 2 weeks
  • you have any tingling or numbness in your foot
  • you have diabetes – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes

Treatment for metatarsalgia

A GP can:

  • look at your foot to see if it's metatarsalgia
  • arrange for an X-ray if needed
  • refer you to a foot specialist if they think you need further treatment

Treatment from a foot specialist

Treatments from a foot specialist, such as a podiatrist or foot and ankle surgeon, may include:

  • specially made soft pads or insoles – to take pressure off the painful area of your foot
  • painkilling injections
  • non-surgical treatments – such as using heat to treat the nerve (radiofrequency ablation)
  • foot surgery – if you have very severe symptoms or other treatments aren't working

Referral to a podiatrist on the NHS may not be available to everyone and waiting times can be long.

You can pay to see a podiatrist privately.

Causes of metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia is usually caused by straining or injuring your metatarsals. These are the bones that join your ankles to your toes.

Metatarsalgia is often linked to:

  • wearing tight, pointy or high-heeled shoes
  • doing a lot of running, or other sports and activities that place pressure on the feet
  • being very overweight or obese
  • having other foot problems – such as flat feet, high arches, bunions or hammer toes
  • having a condition that affects the joints – such as bursitis or arthritis

Page last reviewed: 15/11/2018
Next review due: 15/11/2021