Metatarsal Head

The foot is a complex structure consisting of numerous bones, muscles, and joints. One of the essential parts of the foot is the metatarsal head, which can sometimes become a source of pain and discomfort. If you’re experiencing pain or swelling in the ball of your foot, it might be due to a condition related to the metatarsal head. In this article, we’ll explore what the metatarsal head is, the common issues associated with it, and how to manage and treat these conditions.

What is the Metatarsal Head?

The metatarsal bones are the five long bones located in the middle of the foot.  The metatarsal head refers to the rounded end of each metatarsal bone where it meets the base of the corresponding toe. These metatarsal heads bear a significant amount of weight and pressure during daily activities like walking, running, and standing.

Imaging for Metatarsal Head Issues

X-rays are often the first imaging modality used to evaluate metatarsal head problems. They can reveal stress fractures, bone spurs, or other bony abnormalities that may be contributing to the pain and discomfort.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) MRI scans provide detailed images of the soft tissues surrounding the metatarsal heads, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This imaging technique can help identify conditions like tendonitis, bursitis, or other soft tissue injuries that may be causing metatarsal head pain.

Ultrasound Ultrasound imaging can also be useful in evaluating metatarsal head issues. It can detect fluid accumulation, inflammation, or other soft tissue abnormalities that may be causing discomfort.

Bone Scan In some cases, a bone scan may be ordered to detect areas of increased bone activity, which can indicate stress fractures, arthritis, or other conditions affecting the metatarsal heads.

Common Metatarsal Head Issues


One of the most common conditions affecting the metatarsal head is metatarsalgia, which is characterized by pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot. This condition is often caused by excessive pressure on the metatarsal heads, which can result from various factors, including high-impact activities, ill-fitting shoes, or anatomical abnormalities.

Metatarsal Head Calluses and Corns

Calluses and corns can develop on the metatarsal heads due to friction and pressure. These thick, hardened layers of skin can be painful and make it difficult to wear shoes comfortably.

Stress Fractures

In some cases, repetitive stress or trauma can lead to small cracks or fractures in the metatarsal bones, particularly in the metatarsal heads. These stress fractures can cause significant pain and swelling, making it challenging to walk or bear weight on the affected foot.


Arthritis of the joint adjacent to the metatarsal head (metacarpophalangeal joint) can develop and cause pain.

Managing and Treating Metatarsal Head Issues

Rest and Ice

For mild cases of metatarsalgia or after an injury, resting the foot and applying ice packs can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

Proper Footwear

Wearing shoes with ample toe box space and cushioning can help distribute weight more evenly and prevent excessive pressure on the metatarsal heads.

Metatarsal Pads and Insoles

Special metatarsal pads or insoles can be used to redistribute pressure and provide cushioning for the metatarsal heads, alleviating pain and discomfort.

Physical Therapy

In some cases, physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen the muscles in the foot and improve biomechanics, reducing stress on the metatarsal heads.


For severe or persistent cases of metatarsalgia or other metatarsal head issues, surgery may be necessary. This can involve procedures such as metatarsal osteotomy (reshaping the metatarsal bone) or joint implants.

Metatarsal Head Pain Relief Products

There are various products available to help alleviate metatarsal head pain, such as metatarsal pads, toe separators, and metatarsal sleeves.


The metatarsal head plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of the foot. However, conditions like metatarsalgia, calluses, corns, stress fractures, and arthritis can affect this area and cause significant discomfort. By understanding the causes and seeking proper treatment, individuals can effectively manage metatarsal head issues and find relief from pain and discomfort. Remember, early intervention and proper footwear can go a long way in preventing and managing metatarsal head problems.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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