Metatarsalgia exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the ball of the foot, thereby negating the ill-effects of conventional footwear.
If you’re already wearing the “right type of footwear for metatarsalgia”, then the following exercises will help improve your recovery time.
Causes For Metatarsalgia
”Metatarsalgia starts slowly, presenting itself as a light tolerable pain. But it can quickly get out of hand and sideline you from activity for weeks.”
That is why it is important to detect the cause of your pain so you can start treatment immediately.
Here are some of the most common causes of metatarsalgia:
- Overpronation of the foot. Overpronation or the inward rolling of the feet while standing walking or running cause pressure hot spots on the balls of the foot. You can easily reduce this with orthotics that support the arch of the feet. If you tend to overpronate, check out my article on the “Best Insoles For Flat Feet” to help you train proper gait.
- High Arches. Excessively high arches don’t do a good job at redistributing weight evenly across the foot. In such cases, the same orthotics mentioned above that help support the arch can be used. This will allow the foot an additional contact point through which to redistribute pressure.
- Overuse. Standing, walking, running or performing repetitive exercises and high impact activities and sports.
Spending long periods of time working on hard surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete or tiles.
- Being overweight. Our feet can take a lot of abuse, but unnecessarily stressing the structure of the foot with excessive loads can have severe repercussions.
- Narrow footwear. As with all conventional footwear, cramping the toes leads to weight distribution problems as well as pressure imbalances. This can be easily negated with the right kind of footwear.
- Being too quick to transition from heavily cushioned to minimalist or barefoot walking/running. Prominent metatarsal bones and inadequate natural fatty padding under the metatarsal heads.
How Do Metatarsalgia Exercises help?
Our feet have a natural fatty padding (known as the sub-metatarsal fat pad) under the bones of the ball of the foot.
This natural fatty padding is meant to absorb shock and thereby reduce impact on the metatarsals. This fat pad helps prevent injuries like metatarsalgia.
”Unfortunately, conventional footwear places the foot in a position where the natural fatty padding underneath it gets spread thin.
This reduces impact protection and thus causes inflammation and damage to the balls of the feet, aka the metatarsals.”
Conventional footwear places the toes in an upward pointing position. This is due to the design of the toe-spring at the front of shoes.
The toe-spring forces the muscles at the top of the foot to shorten and the muscles at the bottom of the foot to lengthen. This shortening and lengthening of the muscles of the foot form a myriad of problems, including:
The toe spring in shoes is the main cause of metatarsalgia. The shortening of the muscles at the top of the foot pull the toes in an upward angle.
This becomes the toes natural resting position, which makes it impossible for the natural fatty padding to protect the bones from impact. The extensor tendon at the top of the toe becomes too tight, and the flexor tendons at the bottom, pulls the toes into a hammer toe configuration.
The lengthening of the muscles under the foot leads to plantar fasciitis and capsulitis of the second toe which could then lead to dislocation of the toes themselves and thereby resulting in hammer toes.
“The exercises described in this article will help realign the toes by re-positioning the natural fatty padding under the balls of the feet.
This will reduce impact and inflammation in the area around the metatarsals.
These metatarsalgia exercises will also stretch out the calf muscles, thereby reducing excess pressure on the balls of the feet.”
Best Exercises For Metatarsalgia
Soft Tissue Release For Metatarsalgia
This soft tissue release will help relax the muscles between the metatarsals (aka the lumbrical muscles of the foot).To perform this exercise, simply place your thumb on the top of your foot, between the metatarsals.
Then, gently massage the muscle between the metatarsals. Make sure not to massage too aggressively, there should not be any pain when performing this soft tissue release. Spend 10 to 15 seconds massaging between the metatarsals of all toes.
Make sure to massage the muscle through it’s entire length, only stopping before the bone at the top of your foot.
Massage Ball Exercise For Metatarsalgia
This exercise is excellent for relaxing the muscles under the feet. It also allows the natural fatty padding to realign itself under the ball of the foot. Conventional footwear stretches out the fascia under the foot, this displaces the fatty padding under the foot, thus reducing impact protection.
This is by far the most simple exercise to perform, and it will pay dividends ten fold. To perform this exercise, place your foot over a massage ball like the “Pro-Tec Athletics Orb High Density Deep Tissue Massage Ball”.
Roll the foot over the ball until you come across a tight spot. Then, roll the ball around the tight spot in order to iron it out.
This will massage the fascia thus relaxing the muscles. This helps build the arch of the foot, thus also reducing overpronation. Which causes bunions and metatarsalgia.
Calf Stretch For Metatarsalgia
Conventional footwear places our heels in an elevated position when compared to our toes. Even subtle changes in elevation between the heel and the toes can cause drastic changes in the muscles of our feet and calves.
Elevated heels cause the calf muscles to tighten up, thus placing the foot in a compromising position. This position places more pressure on the balls of the feet as the calf muscle pulls the heel upward, thereby forcing the metatarsals downward.
In order to reduce this excess pressure being placed on the balls of the feet, it is important to stretch out the calf muscles.
To do this, simply place both your hands on a supportive structure in front of you (either a chair or wall). Then place the affected foot backward while bending the knee of the non-affected foot. Then, slowly bring the heel of the affected foot downward, while keeping the knee straight.
You should feel a slight stretch in your calf. You can vary the degree of stretch in the calf muscle by moving the affected leg forward or further backward. Make sure not to overdo the stretch, it is important to feel a light stretch in the calf and not any pain.
Hold this stretch for 20 seconds on each leg, completing a total of 3 sets each.
Toe Extensor Stretch For Metatarsalgia
The toe extrnsor exercise for metatarsalgia does 2 things.
- It repositions the fatty pad under ball of the foot.
- It relaxes the plantar fascia, thus reducing excess pressure under the ball of the foot.
This is an extremely easy exercise to perform and can be performed while at your work desk. To perform this exercise simply pull your toes down in the direction of flexion (i.e. down towards the ground).
If stretched properly, you will notice that the knuckles at the top of the foot will be prominent. You can also apply gentle counter-pressure by pushing upward behind the ball of the foot with the thumb.
Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds or until you feel cramping in the arch of your foot (whichever comes first). This exercise should be performed until the toes no longer curl back in the upward direction.
You can also perform this stretch at your work desk by placing your foot on the floor and bending your toes backwards.
Improve Balance With Active Foot Tripod
Improving your balance will help redistribute the weight borne by your feet evenly throughout the foot. This is achieved by understanding the concept of the foot tripod.
To improve your balance, simply stand on both feet with your toes facing forward. Then, bring your hip in the neutral position by squeezing your glutes together.
Lift one leg in the air, and balance on one foot, making sure to have all three points of the foot tripod in contact with the floor. For more on the foot tripod read this article.
Towel/Marble Exercise for Metatarsalgia
This exercise will help strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot. This will help to lift your arch if you are flat footed and will reduce pain in the metatarsals caused due to overpronation.
To perform this exercise, place your foot on a towel. Then using your toes, pull the towel towards you. You can also perform this exercise with marbles.
Simply pick up the marbles with your toes and place them in a jar. Make sure to repeat the exercise on both feet.
Quick Relief Action For Metatarsalgia
Rest – As mentioned earlier, it is absolutely imperative to diagnose the problem as soon as it occurs. It is better to rest the foot for a couple of days than to be out of action for weeks! Resting the foot helps reduce inflammation and pain. It will allow the foot to recover faster thus allowing for the use of proper footwear in order to prevent injury in the future.
Ice – Icing the forefoot area will also help reduce inflammation. Place an ice pack on the area for not more than 20 minutes every hour. Make sure to apply the ice pack as soon as the pain is felt, making sure not to place it in direct contact with the skin.
Elevation – Elevating the feet above the level of your heart is an excellent way to reduce inflammation. You can use this in conjunction with icing. You can do this by lying down and using pillows to elevate the foot.
Use a metatarsal pad – Metatarsal pads will save you a lot of time, money and pain. Metatarsal pads are cheap and a quick easy fix to get back on your feet again. They come in various shapes and sizes and help add more surface area to the bottom of your foot. This essentially reduces a tremendous amount of pressure to the ball of the foot. Thus, substantially reducing the pain. You can check out my article on the best metatarsal pads to find one that suits your needs.
Change Your Footwear – You will inevitably have to change your footwear as the major cause of metatarsalgia is shoes with toe springs and high heel-to-toe drops. I won’t go too much into the science and examples of proper footwear for metatarsalgia here. You can check out my article on the “Best Shoes For Metatarsalgia” for further information.
Metatarsalgia taping – Taping the foot for metatarsalgia brings the toes and the natural sub-metatarsal fat pad back into alignment. This can be worn with your shoes and metatarsal pads and is my secret weapon in the fight against forefoot pain. You can check out my article on “Metatarsalgia Taping” for more information on the same.
I’ve personally used the metatarsalgia exercises mentioned in this article to get rid of my awful ball of foot pain.
But if you’re lazy like me, then the easiest way to stop the pain is to couple metatarsalgia taping along with metatarsal pads and the right type of footwear.
Remember, early intervention and consistent use of effective tools is the best remedy for ball of foot pain.
Effect of exercise on metatarsalgia: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273076/