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Metatarsalgia is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Metatarsalgia is a generic term referring to pain in the forefoot in the region of the metatarsal heads.
  • System affected: musculoskeletal


Especially common in athletes engaging in high-impact sports (running, jumping, dancing), in rock climbers (12.5%), and in older active adults


Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • The 1st metatarsal head bears significant weight when walking or running. A normal metatarsal arch ensures this balance. The 1st metatarsal head normally has adequate padding to accommodate increased forces.
  • Reactive tissue can build a callus around the metatarsal head, compounding the pain.
    • Excessive or repetitive stress. Forces are transmitted to the forefoot during several stages (midstance and push-off) of walking and running. These forces are translated across the metatarsal heads at nearly three times the body weight (1)[C].
    • A pronated splayfoot disturbs this balance, causing equal weight bearing on all metatarsal heads.
    • Any foot deformity changes distribution of weight, impacting areas of the foot that do not have sufficient padding.
    • Soft tissue dysfunction: intrinsic muscle weakness, laxity in the Lisfranc ligament
    • Abnormal foot posture: forefoot varus or valgus, cavus or equinus deformities, loss of the metatarsal arch, splayfoot, pronated foot, inappropriate footwear
    • Dermatologic: warts, calluses (2)[C]
  • Great toe
    • Hallux valgus (bunion), either varus or rigidus
  • Lesser metatarsals
    • Freiberg infraction (i.e., aseptic necrosis of the metatarsal head usually due to trauma in adolescents who jump or sprint)
    • Hammer toe or claw toe
    • Morton syndrome (i.e., long 2nd metatarsal)

Risk Factors

  • Obesity
  • High heels, narrow shoes, or overly tight-fitting shoes (rock climbers typically wear small shoes)
  • Competitive athletes in weight-bearing sports (e.g., ballet, basketball, running, soccer, baseball, football)
  • Foot deformities or changes in ROM (e.g., pes planus, pes cavus, tight Achilles tendon, tarsal tunnel syndrome, hallux valgus, prominent metatarsal heads, excessive pronation, hammer toe deformity, tight toe extensors) (2)[C]
Geriatric Considerations
  • Concomitant arthritis
  • Metatarsalgia is common in older athletes.
  • Age-related atrophy of the metatarsal fat pad may increase the risk for metatarsalgia.
Pediatric Considerations
  • Muscle imbalance disorders (e.g., Duchenne muscular dystrophy) cause foot deformities in children.
  • In adolescent girls, consider Freiberg infraction.
  • Salter I injuries may affect subsequent growth and healing of the epiphysis.
Pregnancy Considerations
  • Forefoot pain during pregnancy usually results from change in gait, center of mass, and joint laxity.
  • Wear properly fitted, low-heeled shoes.

General Prevention

  • Wear properly fitted shoes with good padding.
  • Start weight-bearing exercise programs gradually.

Commonly Associated Conditions

  • Arthritis
  • Morton neuroma
  • Sesamoiditis
  • Plantar keratosis–callous formation

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Metatarsalgia." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116380/all/Metatarsalgia.
Metatarsalgia. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116380/all/Metatarsalgia. Accessed March 22, 2019.
Metatarsalgia. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116380/all/Metatarsalgia
Metatarsalgia [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 March 22]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116380/all/Metatarsalgia.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Metatarsalgia ID - 116380 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116380/all/Metatarsalgia PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -