This information is useful for those who have been diagnosed with pain in the ball of the foot (also known as metatarsalgia). People experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact a healthcare professional for assessment and diagnosis.
Read more about self-managing a foot problem
Pain in the ball of the foot, sometimes called metatarsalgia, can have a number of different causes.
It can be very uncomfortable and interfere with your normal activities, but will often improve with some simple self-management.
Pain in the ball of the foot tends to develop gradually over time.
Phone 111 if:
- there's been new, significant trauma within the last 7 days, for example a fall from height or direct blow to the foot
- your foot is misshapen following a new injury
- you can't put any weight at all through your foot
Contact your GP if:
- you have foot pain that has appeared suddenly without any impact or injury
Phone 111 if your GP is closed.
The pain is sometimes described as:
- a burning or aching sensation
- a shooting pain
- tingling or numbness in the toes
- a feeling like there's a small stone stuck under the foot
What causes pain in the ball of the foot?
The pain is usually the result of increased pressure on the ball of the foot.
Some common causes include:
- badly fitting footwear with high-heeled or narrow toes
- high-impact sports, like running or tennis
- being overweight as this can increase the pressure on the feet
Pain in the ball of the foot can also be related to health issues, including arthritis and diabetes.
Exercises for pain in the ball of your foot
Exercises should relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. To do this try exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and strengthen the muscles in your feet
Pacing your activities
While recovering you should try to stay as active as you can.
A little activity is better than nothing. Continue to stay within acceptable pain limits but remember you don’t need to be pain free. Aim to do a little bit more each day or every few days.
How to tell if you're exercising at the right level
This guide can help you to understand if you're pacing your daily activities at the right level as you build your movement levels up. It'll also let you see how much pain or discomfort is acceptable.
It can be helpful to rate your pain out of 10 (0 being no pain 10 being the worst pain you have ever had), for example:
- 0 to 3 - minimal pain
- 4 to 5 - acceptable pain
- 6 to 10 - excessive pain
Pain during activity
Aim to keep your pain within a rating of 0 to 5. If your pain gets above this level, you can change the level of activity by:
- reducing the number of times you do a movement
- reducing the pace of an activity
- increasing rest time between activities
Pain after activity
Activity shouldn't make your existing pain worse overall. Increasing activity can lead to increased discomfort as your body gets used to regaining your activity levels. This kind of pain should ease quickly and your pain should be no worse the morning after.
The following can help to reduce the pain.
Pain medication - this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery
More about taking painkillers
You should avoid wearing hard, unsupportive, flat-soled shoes because they won't provide your foot with support. This could make your foot pain worse.
Try to wear well fitted shoes that support and cushion your feet. Running shoes are particularly useful.
Supportive devices (like insoles) can be used if other treatments haven't worked. While they can help some not everyone would benefit from using them.
A healthcare professional would suggest which devices would be appropriate for you to use.
Benefits of keeping active
Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.
Being physically active can:
- maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
- keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
- prevent a recurrence of the problem
- help you aim for a healthy body weight
If painkillers aren't helping to control the pain, your healthcare professional may discuss having a corticosteroid injection into your foot.
Corticosteroids are medicines that help reduce pain and inflammation. They may also be given with a local anaesthetic.
Injections won't cure your condition, they're used to help with the symptoms.
Read more about corticosteroids
A foot problem can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you're off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.
You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels.
Help and support
Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.
Talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms if you've been following this advice and:
- your symptoms haven't improved within 12 weeks
- your symptoms are worsening
Find out how to access MSK services in your area
When dealing with any health condition it's important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.