By Amy McGorry
Holiday shopping and standing all night at festive cocktail parties can leave you with sore, achy feet. But you don't have to let the agony of “da-feet” sideline you from enjoying this holiday season.
Pain and inflammation along the balls of your feet or along the metatarsals (the bones on the bottom of your feet that connect with your toes) can be caused by metatarsalgia. This painful condition affects not only holiday shoppers; it also affects athletes who land hard on their feet, such as dancers, runners and basketball and volleyball players. In addition, metatarsalgia can occur in athletes who diet to make certain weight divisions and experience bone loss from nutritional deficiencies.
When Metatarsals Are A Pain
As you walk, run or jump, your body weight shifts onto these metatarsal bones as the toes “push-off” to propel you forward. Problems occur when the weight does not get distributed evenly throughout the foot and these bones take the brunt of the force. Too much “rolling in” of the foot (pronation) can contribute to this condition. Tight or weak toe muscles along with muscle imbalances in the leg can cause disproportionate forces throughout the foot, causing additional stress to the metatarsal bones. Significant weight gain and poorly fitted shoes can also trigger this condition.
Structural issues that predispose you to metatarsalgia include:
Why You're Sidelined
An abnormal distribution of pressure can occur if there is weakness in the foot muscles, as well as other muscle weakness and tightness in your leg. As a result, these bones can’t absorb shock efficiently and become inflamed and painful when you try to jump or run. You may even experience difficulty pushing off from your toes trying to sprint across the street or on the track. Going up and down steps and walking barefoot on a hard floor can hurt. Athletes with metatarsalgia often complain of feeling like a pebble is in their shoe.
Comedian Billy Crystal used to say “it’s better to look good than to feel good.” Luckily, he’s not a shoes salesman. Shoes may look good, but if they don’t provide good shock absorption or the toe box is too narrow, the metatarsals get “squished” and take a beating as you pound the pavement. Recent reports state that 68 percent of men and 87 percent of women wear the wrong shoe size. It didn’t work out well when Cinderella’s stepsisters tried to fit into a too-small shoe, and it likely won’t work for you, either.
How To Stay In The Game
Properly fitting shoes and sneakers can help prevent metatarsalgia from sidelining you. If you do a lot of jumping or running, you need good shock absorption and a sneaker that won’t allow excessive rubbing along the sole of your foot. Some sneakers may look cool, but the only cool thing will be the ice you have on your feet after wearing them.
Orthotics and cushioned gel metatarsal pads may also help support your foot and alleviate pain. Discuss these with your physician to see if they are appropriate for you.
Also, try the following exercises:
- Place bare feet on the floor.
- Keep toes straight and heels on floor and press toes down as you lift the arch of your foot. Hold 10 seconds. Do 10 times.
- Scrunch a washcloth with your toes. Hold the toes in scrunching position for 5 seconds. Do 10 times.
Plantar Fascia Stretch
- Place balls of your feet on step. Drop your heels down. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat.
Toe extensor stretch
- Hold ball of foot with one hand as you pull toes downward with the other. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat.
Always check with a physician prior to any exercise routine. And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!