What is metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia refers to pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot. This is the area between the arches and toes on the bottom of the foot. Metatarsalgia centers under the five bones at the bases of the toes, the metatarsals.

The pain of metatarsalgia can be caused by a number of conditions and can have varied treatments.

Who gets metatarsalgia?

Anyone can get metatarsalgia, although runners and others who take part in high impact sports or spend more time on their forefoot have the condition more frequently than others.

People with high arches also have metatarsalgia more than others. High arches put extra pressure on the metatarsals and heels. People with a second toe longer than their big toe may also experience metatarsalgia more frequently.

People with foot deformities such as hammertoes and bunions may also experience more metatarsalgia.

What causes metatarsalgia?

Not all of the causes of metatarsalgia are known. In addition to being a frequent runner, wearing ill-fitting shoes or high heels can cause metatarsalgia.

Excess weight can also contribute to metatarsalgia.

Having rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or gout can also contribute to metatarsalgia.

What are the symptoms of metatarsalgia?

The main symptom of metatarsalgia is pain in the metatarsal area under the ball of the foot. Metatarsalgia may or may not be accompanied by bruising and swelling or inflammation. Symptoms can come on quickly or develop over time. They include:

  • Pain in the ball of the foot: this can be sharp, aching or burning. The pain may get worse when you stand, run or walk.
  • Numbness or tingling in your toes
  • The feeling of a pebble in your shoe

If you have any of these ongoing symptoms, you should see your doctor. Untreated metatarsalgia can lead to hammertoes, can cause you to limp and cause pain in other parts of the body, including the lower back and hip when you compensate and begin to walk abnormally.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/02/2019.


  • American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. Metatarsalgia (forefoot pain). Accessed 3/5/2019.
  • Espinosa N, Brodsky JW, Maceira E. Metatarsalgia. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2010 Aug;18(8):474-85.
  • Scranton PE Jr. Metatarsalgia: diagnosis and treatment. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1980 Jul;62(5):723-32.

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