Metatarsalgia is a common problem for the regular runner. Although there are a number of causes, the most common is repetitive strain put on the metatarsals (the long bones in the foot), for example during high impact sports involving a lot of running and jumping.
The pain it causes is felt in the balls of the feet and can sideline a runner for a number of weeks. In order to get back to training as soon as possible, treatment should consist of a number of immediate and longer-term actions.
What can I do straight away?
First of all, rest. This can be hard to do, particularly if you have events coming up but definitely suspend training until the pain begins to subside. Putting more pressure on already-strained muscles in the foot will only exacerbate the injury and ultimately result in a longer recovery time.
Secondly, pain-relief and anti-inflammatories. Take pain relief and apply ice packs to the affected area. These will make you feel more comfortable, as well as reduce the inflammation that’s causing the pain. If you can, choose pain-killers that contain anti-inflammatories to help reduce any swelling. Swelling can also be reduced by elevating your foot - lie down and put your feet on a pillow or other raised object.
How can I prevent this happening again?
No shortcuts should be made on the road to recovery. Even when the initial pain has gone, don’t rush back to your prior training regime. If you’re eager to maintain your conditioning, then you may do some low-impact exercises. Swimming for example, is a perfect rehabilitory exercise because it gently strengthens weakened muscles without placing excessive pressure on the feet.
A stretching regime is also a fundamental element of your recovery, helping to alleviate pain whilst strengthening key muscles which can help in preventing metatarsalgia.
The most important areas to focus on for recovery are the calf muscles, achilles tendons, ankles, and toes. Here are five of the best stretches to get you back on your way. None of them require gym equipment and can be carried out in the comfort of your home.
- Stand at an arm’s length away from a wall, placing your hands on it.
- Step forward with one foot, keeping the back heel on the floor with your knee straight.
- Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds before switching legs.
Achilles tendon - Stretch
- Stand on a step, with your heels hanging off the edge.
- Slowly lower your heels until you feel the stretch, and hold for a few seconds.
- Lift your heels back up so that they’re level with the step.
- Sit in a chair, and cross the injured foot over your knee.
- Hold the ankle with your hand on the same side, and your toes in the opposite hand.
- Pull your toes towards you until it’s uncomfortable (but not painful).
- Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Again, sit in a chair with the injured foot over your knee.
- This time, hold your ankle with the hand of the opposite side, and your toes with the hand of the same side.
- Pull your toes towards you until it’s uncomfortable.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Stand barefooted, with one foot in front standing on a towel.
- Maintain a slight bend in the leg that is touching the towel.
- Use your toes to scrunch up the towel, making sure that the rest of the foot does not leave the ground.
- Perform 3 sets of 15 scrunches per foot.
Once you feel ready to hit the road again, avoid future injury by equipping yourself with appropriate footwear. Enetor Comfort Insoles provide a level of cushioning that prevents your feet from absorbing excessive and damaging stress.
For more information on metatarsalgia and how to treat it, visit our injury advice page.