Pain in the ball of your foot that manifests or worsens after exercise is generally referred to as metatarsalgia. This condition can indicate trauma to or strain of bones and ligaments in the ball of your foot -- or metatarsal area. Structural abnormalities and improper footwear can lead to foot injuries. Talk to a podiatrist about your case to determine the cause and begin treatment.
The metatarsal bones comprise the ball -- or area between the toes and arch -- of the foot. Your five metatarsals connect to the small bones in your forefoot as well as your toes. The ball of your foot acts to transfer weight forward to your toes, allowing you to walk. A shock-absorbing fat pad lies between your metatarsals and your skin, helping you stand and walk comfortably. This relatively small area receives all of your weight -- plus the impact force of your movement -- during bipedal motion.
Like any other joints in your body, the connection between the bones in your feet relies on perfect alignment for optimal function; a flaw in the structure can lead to injury. Stepping down on the ball of your foot causes your metatarsal arch to flatten to absorb body weight. Metatarsal misalignment -- if one of your metatarsals sits lower than the others -- is often a cause of metatarsalgia. This structural abnormality causes one bone to bear more weight than the others. Over time and with repeated stress, bruising and possible fractures can result.
Proper footwear is critical to maintaining foot health, especially if your choice of exercise involves running or other high-impact activities. The shoes you wear during the day, however, will also influence the structure and health of your feet. High heeled shoes, for instance, create a great deal of stress in the metatarsal area, keeping your ligaments and tendons stretched while placing additional pressure on the metatarsal bones. A narrow toe area is also potentially damaging; bones are compressed, inhibiting walking and leading to discomfort. Excessive wear is also causative -- worn shoes leave you vulnerable to bruising and stress fractures, particularly if you run or play sports on pavement.
Treatment and Prevention
Rest and refraining from high impact exercise allows injured tendons and bones in your foot to heal. Your doctor may also recommend custom orthotic inserts that can correct any structural abnormalities present. Buying shoes with a wide toe area and a "rocker" sole reduce pressure in the metatarsal area, helping to relieve and prevent pain. Avoid walking barefoot or wearing flat-soled shoes, as these can aggravate symptoms and increase stress on your metatarsals.