Pain in the ball of the foot

Pain in the ball of your foot is known as metatarsalgia. You can usually ease the pain yourself. But talk to your GP if it does not improve.

Easing pain in the ball of the foot

If you talk to your GP, they'll usually suggest you try these things:

Do

  • rest and raise your foot when you can

  • put an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) in a towel on the painful area for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours

  • 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

  • try regular gentle stretching exercises

  • take paracetamol

Don't

  • do not take ibuprofen for the first 48 hours after an injury

  • do not walk or stand for long periods

  • do not wear high heels or tight pointy shoes

Get advice from your GP before trying it, especially if:

  • you have any concerns about your health
  • you are not sure if the exercises are suitable
  • you have any pre-existing health problems or injuries, or any current symptoms

Stop the exercise immediately and talk to your GP if you feel any pain or feel unwell.

Ask your pharmacist about:

  • the best painkiller to take
  • insoles and pads for your shoes
  • treatments for common skin problems
  • if you need to see a GP

When to contact your GP

Talk to your GP if:

  • the pain is severe or stopping you from doing normal activities
  • the pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
  • the pain has not improved after treating it at home for 2 weeks
  • you have any tingling or loss of sensation in your foot
  • you have diabetes – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes

Check the level of your pain

Severe pain:

  • always there and so bad it's hard to think or talk
  • you cannot sleep
  • it's very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress

Moderate pain:

  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress

Mild pain:

  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but does not stop you from doing things like going to work

Causes of pain in the ball of your foot

Common causes of pain in the ball of your foot are exercising too much or wearing shoes that are too tight.

Some people also have a foot shape that puts extra pressure on the ball of the foot. For example, if you have small curled-up toes (hammer toes) or high arches.

A stress fracture or certain types of arthritis can sometimes cause pain in the ball of the foot.

Your symptoms may help you find the cause of your foot pain.

Possible causes of pain in the ball of your foot

Symptoms Possible cause
Symptoms Pain, swelling, bruising, started after intense or repetitive exercise Possible cause sprained metatarsal
Symptoms Sharp, burning or shooting pain near your toes (ball of your foot), feels like a lump or small stone under your foot Possible cause Morton's neuroma
Symptoms Redness and swelling, dull aching pain Possible cause bursitis or arthritis
Symptoms Hard bony lump near the big toe Possible cause bunions

Don't worry if you're not sure what the problem is.

Follow the advice on this page and talk to your GP if the pain does not get better in 2 weeks.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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