Pain in the ball of the foot or forefoot is a common condition, especially among active people who run or walk often. Painful forefeet can be very debilitating and may worsen if activity is continued, but proper treatment and use of equipment to properly support the feet can often eliminate problems.
Metatarsalgia is a condition characterized by pain in the ball of the foot caused by inflamed heads of the metatarsal bones that connect to the toes in the ball of the foot. This condition is usually caused by high pressure exerted on the ball of the foot on a consistent basis. For example, athletes increasing their training regimen are likely to experience ball of the foot pain. High-heeled shoes and shoes with narrow forefeet that constrict the foot may contribute to metatarsalgia.
Sesamoiditis is a condition characterized by the inflammation and irritation of the big toe tendons and the small sesamoid bones on the bottom of the foot. This condition can can cause ball of the foot pain, though the pain is usually localized around the base of the big toe underneath the foot instead of spread across the whole ball of the foot. Sesamoiditis is a form of tendonitis, so the most important thing to do to begin treatment is reduce inflammation by stopping activity.
The initial treatment of ball of the foot pain should involve immediate rest to the feet until you can are able to walk normally without pain. Ball of the foot pain often develops in response to repetitive stress, especially due to a sudden increase in workout intensity--for instance, if you are a runner stepping up training for a marathon, you may suddenly experience ball of the foot pain. Applying ice for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours as pain persists can be helpful to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications can also cut down on swelling.
Wearing the right shoes might make all the difference between painful feet and feet that feel perfectly fine. Shoes with thicker heels and less cushion in the forefoot may be more likely to lead to pain in the balls of the feet. Wearing shoes that don't fit well or are worn out may also cause problems. Have an expert at a running or walking store fit you for shoes or seek advice about proper footwear from a podiatrist (foot doctor).
Sometimes changing shoes won't be able to solve ball of the foot pain alone. In this case, adding other support to the shoe through different types of inserts may help alleviate problems. Extra insoles can add cushioning to the feet and reduce the impact on the forefoot, which may alleviate pain. Cushioning that fits just below the ball of the feet can shift impact away from the problem areas and may help reduce pain. If store-bought products do not help, you may want to consider orthotics, which are custom inserts designed specifically for your feet.