10 Best Metatarsalgia Exercises to Alleviate Your Foot Pain

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Health, Therapy

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Having a peaceful stroll during the evenings may be the most common pass time for all. For those struggling with metatarsalgia (a condition where people would have discomfort on the ball of their foot), even these moments remain a dream. Even simple walks can be painful for them. Can’t they walk pain-free at all?

Through focused and regular incorporation of metatarsalgia exercises into your daily routine, you can potentially bid goodbye to the nagging pain and welcome comfortable, joyous walks. Join us as we step into the details of targeted metatarsalgia stretches that not only alleviate pain but substantially enhance the pleasure and health benefits you derive from your daily walks.

Watch this metatarsalgia exercises video to get more insights.

Anatomy of Metatarsals

Before delving into the metatarsal exercises, let’s know some basic info on the metatarsal bones in our foot. The metatarsal region comprises five long bones in the foot, named from the first to the fifth metatarsal, with the first being the thickest, connected to the hallux (big toe) and the fifth being the smallest connected to the little toe.

Every metatarsal bone has three parts: a proximal base, a shaft and a distal head. Each of the metatarsal bones connects at one end to a tarsal bone and at the other end to one of the foot’s five phalanges, forming the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. These metatarsal bones play a pivotal role as connection points for several lower limb and intrinsic foot muscles. They are integral to the foot’s arches in balancing and supporting our body weight while walking, running, or standing.


What is Metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia refers to a condition characterized by pain and inflammation occurring in the ball of the foot, specifically impacting the metatarsal bones and the heads of the foot. It is often associated with pain in the padding directly below the toes, where the metatarsal heads or joints are present.

Metatarsalgia is not a specific disease but rather an umbrella term for these symptoms which may arise due to various causes such as overuse, injury, or inflammation affecting the metatarsal bones and heads, which are located in the ball of the foot.  The symptoms can be exacerbated when flexing the toes. One in every 10 Americans may develop metatarsalgia at least once in their life time.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Center (NCBI), metatarsalgia can be divided into three types:

  • Primary Metatarsalgia: It is caused by inherent anatomical abnormalities in the patient, resulting in excessive strain on the impacted metatarsal.
  • Secondary Metatarsalgia: It arises from systemic issues like MTP joint arthritis.
  • Iatrogenic Metatarsalgia: It can develop after unsuccessful reconstructive surgeries.

Metatarsalgia Symptoms

People experiencing metatarsalgia typically report a set of symptoms that might include:

  • Acute or burning sensation in the ball of the foot
  • Sensation as if having a stone in the shoe
  • Pain that aggravates with standing, walking, or running
  • Numbness or tingling in the toes
  • Swelling on the foot

Causes of Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia causes can be multifaceted. It might be the result of other foot musculoskeletal disorders like hammer toe or bunions, or arise due to causes discussed below:

  • Deformed Foot

Using too-small shoes or high heels can lead to foot deformities, including hammertoe and bunions, which can double the risk of metatarsalgia.

  • Ill-Fitting Shoes and High-Heels

Women who frequently wear high heels might experience metatarsalgia due to the increased weight transfer to the front of the foot. Shoes with narrow toe boxes or lacking in support can also be contributors.

  • Morton’s Neuroma

This noncancerous growth of fibrous tissue around a nerve, usually found between the third and fourth metatarsal heads, shares symptoms with metatarsalgia. In causing metatarsalgia, neuroma also adds its part by exacerbating metatarsal stress.

  • Overweight

Extra body weight puts more pressure on the metatarsals during movement, potentially leading to metatarsalgia. Weight loss might help alleviate the symptoms.

  • Rigorous Training or Sports Activity (Overuse)

Metatarsalgia often affects distance runners and people active in high-impact sports due to the significant force absorbed by the front of the foot, particularly in the ball of foot, during such activities. The risk increases with the use of poorly-fitted or worn-out sports shoes.

  • Metatarsalgia Stress Fractures

Small fractures in the metatarsals or toe bones can alter weight distribution on the foot, heightening the risk of metatarsalgia.

  • Uncommon Foot Shapes

Individuals with a high arch or a second toe longer than the big toe experience more pressure on the metatarsals, enhancing the risk of metatarsalgia.

  • Tight Muscles

Tightness or weakness in the Achilles tendon, toe extensors and the other muscles around the metatarsals can cause metatarsalgia.

  • Arthritis

Degenerative conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis can also add up their part in causing metatarsalgia.

Diagnostic Approaches

Diagnosing metatarsalgia involves a thorough physical examination by a healthcare provider, who may inquire about your medical history and the nature of your symptoms. In some cases, X-rays or other imaging tests like CTs or MRIs might be recommended to rule out other potential issues like fractures.

Metatarsalgia Treatment Options

As we have seen in the beginning, metatarsalgia healing time will be six to eight weeks if proper rest and care are given to the metatarsalgia pain location. However, it is possible to avoid aggravating the metatarsalgic pain and shorten the metatarsalgia recovery time. To ensure metatarsalgia pain relief, you can follow certain metatarsalgia treatment at home as noted below:

  • Give rest to your feet
  • Apply ice packs for 20 minutes for multiple times a day
  • Take OTC (over-the-counter) medications like naproxen or ibuprofen
  • Use proper foot wear
  • Use metatarsal pads to support your feet
  • Make use of arch supports and cushioned pads to ease the stress on the feet

Apart from these, metatarsalgia physical therapy exercises can also be of help. Physical therapy exercises for metatarsalgia can be folloed with the guidance of a therapist. If these conventional methods fail to resolve your metatarsal pain, your physician may recommend steroids. In rare cases, metatarsalgia surgery can be advocated.

Now, as we have discussed the basic info on metatarsalgia, its symptoms, causes and treatment option in brief, let’s move to the focus of our blog- the metatarsalgia exercises.

Can Metatarsalgia Exercises Resolve Your Metatarsal Joint Pain?

Metatarsal strengthening exercises can do wonders in relieving the metatarsal pain. Usually the metatarsalgia ball of foot pain will resolve with modification in activities. If the pain persists, then it’s time to pay attention to your foot. Consulting a physician would be the right decision. Engaging in proper metatarsalgia foot exercises can definitely give you a remarkable solution to your pain. Let’s analyze in detail the different effective metatarsalgia treatment exercises in this blog. The below metatarsalgia exercises pictures will give you some idea about the kind of metatarsalgia massages you need.

picture-depicting-different-types of-metatarsalgia-exercises

1. Ball of Foot Pain Exercises: Targeting the Metatarsals

In managing and alleviating the symptoms of metatarsalgia, focusing on exercises that target the metatarsals, the bones in the ball of your foot, can be highly beneficial. These ball foot exercises are designed to fortify the muscles around the metatarsals, enhancing stability and decreasing stress on the foot’s ball.

Basic activities such as towel curls, where you gather a towel using your toes while it lies on the floor, can aid in developing muscle strength in the region. Another beneficial ball of foot pain relief exercises is to lift marbles using your toes and place them in a container.

However, don’t engage in any rigorous metatarsalgia exercises. You have to be slow and steady to prevent injuries or strains. Consistent practice can promote better foot health, successfully reducing symptoms of metatarsalgia and improving the function and mobility of the foot.

A proper massage for metatarsalgia can relieve the metatarsal bones pain. Let’s learn how to do these exercises properly:

  • Plantar Fascia Mobilization Using a Ball

To alleviate the symptoms of metatarsalgia, try mobilizing the plantar fascia with a tennis, lacrosse, or golf ball. Although this might cause a mild to moderate level of pain, it’s essential to maintain a pressure level that is bearable. Gently roll the ball to and fro across the entire underside of your foot, lingering longer on more painful areas. Keep the mobilization slow and controlled, allocating 2 to 3 minutes for each foot.

  • Heel Raises

It is a beneficial exercise for metatarsal pain. Increase the strength of your plantar flexion muscles through heel raises. While standing near a countertop for balance support, lift your heels off the ground, rising onto your toes. Initially, perform the foot exercise for metatarsalgia with both feet for 10 repetitions, working up to 3 sets daily. As your strength builds and pain diminishes, transition to single-foot raises, aiming for 25 repetitions. Monitor your pain levels to avoid aggravating the plantar fascia.

  • Intrinsic Foot Muscle Strengthening Using a Towel

Metatarsal fracture exercises include towel stretches. Position yourself on a firm surface with the leg that’s injured fully extended in front of you. Drape a towel over the toes and the ball of your foot. Grasping both ends of the towel, gently pull it towards you, ensuring your leg remains straight. Maintain this metatarsal stretch for a duration of 15 to 30 seconds before releasing it. Perform this action a total of 3 times.

Another effective method is towel crinkles. Utilizing a hand towel laid flat on a smooth, non-carpeted floor, use your toes to grasp and crinkle the towel. Extend your toes fully, attempting to grab a significant portion of the towel with each grasp. Do this exercise daily, with 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each foot.

2. Arch Strengthening: Building Support from the Ground Up

Nurturing the arches can be a cornerstone in alleviating pain and fostering stronger feet. The arch, being the foot’s natural shock absorber, plays a pivotal role in distributing body weight and aiding in proper gait.

A crucial metatarsal stretches for metatarsalgia is the calf raises, which not only fortify the arches but also enhance calf muscles. It is equally important to incorporate metatarsalgia exercises that focus on the arches to prevent stiffness and maintain flexibility. It is advisable to approach arch strengthening gradually, increasing intensity over time to avoid overexertion and potential injury.

Let’s see how you should do the calf raises or calf stretches:

  • Gastrocnemius Stretch

Stand upright and lean against a sturdy surface such as a wall or countertop. Extend one foot behind you, keeping the knee straight and heel grounded while bending the front knee. A gentle stretch should be felt in the lower rear leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, repeating thrice on each side.

  • Soleus Stretch

Adopt a similar position as the gastrocnemius stretch, but this time bend the knee of the extended leg. Maintain the stretch for 30 seconds, conducting 3 repetitions for each leg.

3. Enhancing Toe Mobility

A flexible big toe can ease the pressure on the other toes. On the other hand, a stiffer or non-flexible toe can lead to metatarsalgia. Targeting all the toes during metatarsal pain exercises can help in managing metatarsalgia pain.

  • Toe Raise

To improve the mobility of the big toe, you can use a rolled up towel and place your big toe on the towel and stretch it by bending your knee forward. Do this stretch for 45 seconds.

  • Toe Extension

One of the best effective metatarsalgia exercises is to make use of a resistance band. Sit in a relaxed seated position and wrap a resistance band around your big toe and stretch it. Relax and then do it again for 5 repetitions.

  • Toe Flexion

Sit on a chair and cross one leg over the other, resting your ankle on your opposite knee. Grasp one toe at a time and gently pull it forward until you experience a stretch along the upper part of your toe. Maintain this position for a duration of 30 seconds. Proceed to repeat this process with your other toes too.

  • Joint Traction

Sit in a chair and lift one foot onto it. Grasp the base of a toe using your fingers and gently pull on the toe, holding the stretch for 10 seconds. Proceed to do this for each toe in turn.

  • Toe Lift

In this exercise, you concentrate on alternate toe lifting. Elevate your big toe while firmly pressing the remaining four toes into the ground. And then anchor your big toe to the ground while raising the other four toes. Smoothly alternate between these two positions, ensuring the sole of your foot remains stationary and only your toes are in motion. Perform this cycle 30 times consecutively.

4. Improving Balance by Standing on One Foot

Strengthen your balance and stability by standing on one foot near a countertop. Use the countertop for assistance, ensuring to maintain an upright posture. To increase the challenge, try standing on a softer surface. Perform this balancing act for 30 seconds, with 3 rounds on each foot.

Role of Proper Footwear in Metatarsalgia Management

Exercise alone can’t help you resolving the metatarsalgic pain. Choosing the ideal footwear is a pivotal step in preventing metatarsalgia and ensuring optimal foot health. Here are the essential features to consider while selecting shoes to mitigate the risk of developing metatarsalgia:

  • Adequate cushioning and support in the forefoot area
  • A wide and high toe box to facilitate comfortable movement
  • A rocker sole that assists in reducing pressure points
  • The inclusion of metatarsal pads to distribute pressure evenly
  • Strong arch support to maintain the correct foot posture

Consistently opting for shoes with the correct features and updating them as necessary can help prevent undue pressure on the extensor tendons, reducing the chances of metatarsalgia recurring. It is advised to choose shoes that are not only supportive and have the right width but are also lightweight and flexible to help in both the prevention and treatment of metatarsalgia.

Many companies manufacture and bring to market metatarsalgia shoes to aid the people with such issues to overcome pain. Allocating sufficient time to select the correct athletic footwear can vastly improve your foot health. In managing metatarsalgia, orthotics, thus, plays a leading role.

Tips for Preventing Metatarsalgia Flare-ups

  • Always do proper warm up routine before your exercises for metatarsal pain
  • Use appropriate footwear for sports and day- to-day usage
  • While running or rigorous walking, avoid uneven terrains
  • Replace worn-out foot wears at proper intervals
  • Never over-exert your body during foot exercises for metatarsalgia
  • In case of suspecting injury or damage, take rest and seek medical attention
  • If you suspect metatarsalgia from running, turn to low-impact activities like swimming or cycling

In wrapping up, dedicating valuable time to a targeted metatarsalgic exercises routine can be a pivotal step in managing and alleviating metatarsalgia symptoms. However, it is important to undertake these metatarsal pain relief exercises with a conscious approach to avoid exacerbating the condition. Yoga exercises for metatarsalgia can also help. Running, jogging, Zumba and aerobics are some of the metatarsalgia exercises to avoid.

Being in tune with your body’s responses and seeking guidance from healthcare experts can guide you in tailoring a routine that is harmonious with your rehabilitation needs. Consistency in practicing these metatarsalgia exercises can not only foster immediate relief for metatarsalgia but also empower you to reclaim your active life, facilitating a journey toward well-rounded foot health and improved daily functioning.

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