As a runner, the stabbing and burning pain of metatarsalgia can stop you in your tracks. Unfortunately, this condition is often caused by overtraining and overuse.
Assessing the Severity of Your Metatarsalgia
Metatarsalgia is when the bones of your toes and feet, or the metatarsals, repeatedly experience impact and pressure. This can cause them to become swollen, inflamed, and painful. In most cases, the stress and pounding are due to running.
Wearing improper shoes, running on hard surfaces, or running on soft surfaces with no footwear can all contribute to metatarsalgia discomfort. Each time you push yourself forwards, the metatarsal heads of your feet face significant strain. The irritation you feel can range from mild to intense.
The onset of metatarsalgia may produce only mild discomfort. Most people describe the feeling as if a rock was in their shoe, right under their second, third, or fourth toes. Over a few months to weeks, the issue can worsen.
Moderate metatarsalgia will commonly feel like a burning or stabbing pain in the balls of your feet. Walking might not be uncomfortable, but running will often cause pain.
If you ignore your symptoms, severe metatarsalgia can make it impossible to bear weight on your feet, much less run. Additionally, untreated metatarsalgia can progress into something worse.
Should I Stop Running with Metatarsalgia?
Even if you only have mild metatarsalgia, taking a brief break from running is good. You’ll need to assess your symptoms and determine the severity of your condition.
Initially, you’ll want to rest your feet, apply ice, and possibly give them a rub down. The plantar area and the balls of your feet can be foam rolled or massaged gently. Taking anti-inflammatory medications might help alleviate the swelling.
After an assessment and RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), you can test the waters of running. Some runners find that decreasing their weekly mileage and running on softer surfaces is enough to reduce symptoms of metatarsalgia. Others will need to hold off on running until the pain stops completely.
What If I Continue Running with Metatarsalgia
Besides being uncomfortable, metatarsalgia can worsen and become a chronic condition if you don’t pause to treat it.
In some cases, it can develop into Morton’s Neuroma. This is when the tissue around one of the nerves of the toe, commonly the third and fourth toes, becomes thick. It results in burning, tingling, stabbing pain, and/or numbness in the ball of your foot.
Running with Morton’s Neuroma is not advisable, as you’ll need to take a break to let the area heal. Sometimes, switching shoes is enough to combat the issue. In other cases, Morton’s Neuroma will require corticosteroid injections or even surgery to alleviate the nerve pain.
Tips for Running with Metatarsalgia
If you decide to go for a run, you can do a few things to try and prevent worsening your metatarsalgia.
- • Check your shoes – If you can, you’ll want to find the best running shoes for metatarsalgia pain and get your foot assessed by a shoe expert. Those with high arches might benefit from a supportive, pressure-deflecting insole. Average flat-footed runners should choose a wide-toe box with a dome-shaped cushion pad in the metatarsal area.
- • Run on softer surfaces – Running on softer surfaces like trails may help if you’ve been pounding the pavement. Running in super-soft areas, like a sandy beach, generally isn’t advised.
- • Decrease your mileage – When you’re returning from an injury, slowly building up your mileage and frequency is critical. Initially, you’ll want to decrease how far and how often a week. As pain improves, you can cautiously start increasing your workouts.
• Strengthen your foot – Exercises that improve the flexibility of your arch and plantar sling can help decrease your risk of getting metatarsalgia. Easy, at-home activities include picking up a marble with your toes or grabbing a washcloth from a smooth surface with your toes and scrunching, holding each for five seconds before releasing and repeating.