Pain in the balls of your feet is a common problem. The general term used to describe the condition is metatarsalgia, which refers to the metatarsal bones at the top of the foot’s arch. Causes of pain include arthritis, disorders in your foot’s structure, muscle weakness and injury. Wearing tight shoes and high heels can also cause problems in the balls of your feet.
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The big toe is designed to carry a majority of your body’s weight while you’re in the “push-off” position when walking. Any kind of structural fault in the foot can interrupt this seamless process and transfer the weight to nearby joints or the ball of your foot, resulting in pain. Metatarsalgia is characterized by deep, dull, aching pain while sitting or standing and a sharp pain while walking. Inflammation can occur, most often near the joint of the second toe. Excess stress on the ball of your foot can cause a callus to develop. People with a second toe that’s longer than their big toe may be at greater risk for developing metatarsalgia.
Morton’s neuroma is a painful condition that affects the area between the third and fourth toe, causing pain in the ball of the foot. If you have Morton’s neuroma, the Mayo Clinic explains, the sensation is like having a pebble in your shoe. This condition is characterized by thickening tissue surrounding a nerve that leads to the toe, causing a sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot. You may also feel stinging, burning or numbness in the toes. Morton’s neuroma is often caused by irritation in the foot, injury or pressure.
Rheumatoid arthritis, known as RA, is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue and joints. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that 90 percent of patients with RA will eventually develop symptoms that affect the foot and ankle. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the foot include pain, swelling and stiffness in several joints of both feet, in the balls of your feet or in the soles. RA can affect your gait, and you may develop corns and bunions. RA does not affect just your feet. People with this type of arthritis often feel feverish and tired, have a poor appetite, and can develop inflamed joints.
What to Do
Depending on the cause of your pain, changing your footwear could significantly improve your condition. You should wear rigid, supportive shoes that are not too flexible. You should avoid high heels, but wear shoes with a wedge at the heel to support your arch and distribute pressure throughout the entire foot. Orthotics, which are custom-made foot insoles, can help relieve pain in the balls of your feet associated with high arches or flat feet. For a medical condition like Morton’s neuroma or RA, you can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling. No matter what is causing your discomfort, exercise and stretching can also provide pain relief and restore flexibility.