Forefoot pain refers to pain and discomfort felt toward the top of the foot. The rate of forefoot pain and deformity increases with age. When a cause cannot be determined, any pain on the ball of the foot is generally referred to as metatarsalgia.
Forefoot pain may be due to:
- Morton's neuroma
- Stress fractures
A neuroma usually means a benign tumor of a nerve. However, Morton's neuroma, also called interdigital neuroma, is not actually a tumor. It is a thickening of the tissue surrounding the nerves leading to the toes. Morton's neuroma usually develops when the bones in the third and fourth toes pinch together, compressing a nerve. It can also occur in other locations. The nerve becomes enlarged and inflamed. The inflammation causes a burning or tingling sensation and cramping in the front of the foot. Other causes of this condition include:
- Tight, poorly-fitting shoes
- Abnormal bone structure
Treatment for Neuromas. Pain from Morton's neuroma can be reduced by massaging the affected area. Roomier shoes (box-toed shoes), pads of various sorts, and cortisone injections in the painful area are also helpful. A combination of cortisone injections and shoe modifications provides better immediate relief than changes in footwear alone. Ultrasound-guided injection of alcohol might also provide relief from Morton's neuroma, research finds.
If these treatments are not effective, the enlarged area may need to be surgically removed. Success rates for this procedure seem to be high and provide long-term relief. Some numbness is common afterward, but it rarely bothers patients. Occasionally, the nerve tissue may re-grow and form another neuroma.
Sesamoiditis is an inflammation of the tendons around the small, round bones that are embedded in the head of the first metatarsal bone, which leads to the big toe. Sesamoid bones bear much stress under ordinary circumstances; excessive stress can strain the surrounding tendons. Often there is no clear-cut cause, but sesamoid injuries are common among people who participate in jarring, high-impact activities such as ballet, jogging, and aerobic exercise.
Treatment for Sesamoiditis. Rest and reducing stress on the ball of the foot are the first lines of treatment for sesamoiditis. A low-heeled shoe with a stiff sole and soft padding inside is all that is usually required. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
A stress fracture in the foot, also called fatigue or march fracture, usually results from a break or rupture in any of the five metatarsal bones (mostly the second or third). These fractures are caused by overuse during strenuous exercise, particularly jogging and high-impact aerobics. Women are at higher risk for stress fracture than men.
A fracture in the first metatarsal bone, which leads to the big toe, is uncommon because of the thickness of this bone. If it occurs, however, it is more serious than a fracture in any of the other metatarsal bones because it dramatically changes the pattern of normal walking and weight bearing.
Treatment for Stress Fractures. Patients should seek treatment if pain persists for 3 weeks. Treatment after that time may reduce the chances of returning to previous level of functioning. Surgery may be needed if conservative measures fail. In most cases, however, stress fractures heal by themselves if you avoid rigorous activities. Some health care providers recommend moderate exercise, particularly swimming and walking. It is best to wear low-heeled shoes with stiff soles. Occasionally, a health care provider may recommend wearing a walking "boot" (brace) to reduce pain and facilitate healing.