The medical name is metatarsalgia, but you probably call it just sore feet. As we get older, the thick pads that protect the soles of the feet get thinner. This is especially felt in the protective pad that cushions the ball of the foot. At some point, in our 50s or 60s— or sooner or later, depending on the individual— even walking becomes painful.
The typical person doesn’t give a thought to their feet until something’s not right. Then they make an appointment with our clinic and we start the examination. Here are some of the complaints we hear from patients with metatarsalgia:
- the bottom of my foot hurts, just behind the toes
- the pain gets worse when I’m walking
- I have a callus on the bottom of my foot
- it hurts when I flex my foot
- it feels like something is burning
- there’s a numb feeling in my toes
- it feels like there is a pebble in my shoe
Most structures in the body show age-related changes. In the foot, the destruction of the fat pad happens at different rates for different people. Some types of disease may accelerate the process, including rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine disorders or connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma.
What You Can Do At Home
There is not much you can do to halt or slow the atrophy or destruction of the fat pad, but there are steps you can take to alleviate discomfort. Avoid high heels; heel heights should be less than one inch. Higher heels impose an unhealthy proportion of the body’s weight on the ball of the foot while you’re walking or standing.
Pay attention to the fit of your shoes. If you think that a certain pair is causing discomfort, bring them with you when you visit the doctor. (We have clinics in DeSoto, Dallas and Sunnyvale.) The doctor can advise you on the best footwear for your specific condition.
Custom-made orthotics may help some patients. You can buy shoes with extra padding in the sole. There are also shoes that support the arches and lessen the impact and load carried by the ball of the foot.
We Relieve the Symptoms
At our clinics in Dallas, DeSoto and Sunnyvale, we have a number of tools to treat sore feet. First, we examine your feet to determine if there is an underlying structural problem that might be contributing to the pain. We ask about your lifestyle— your job, hobbies, daily routine, and even the clothes you wear to work. (Are you on your feet all day? Were you an avid runner at some point in the past? When did you first notice the pain?)
We often prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to relieve swelling and inflammation. In some patients, this delivers moderate relief.
You can also elevate the feet after you’ve been standing for a while. Keep your feet up while you’re watching your favorite TV show. This type of therapy is designed to take the weight off and decompress your feet. If the foot is really painful— if, for instance, you would describe the sensation as sharp, burning, acute or stabbing— you can apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Lay the ice pack against the ball of the foot and leave it on for about 20 minutes. If you have diabetes, talk with the doctor before embarking on any self-treatment.
You can also lighten the stress on the fat pad by avoiding certain motions, such as standing on tiptoes, walking downhill or—obviously— running, which is a high-impact sport. If you need exercise, consider non-weight bearing alternatives such as swimming, bicycling or water aerobics. But don’t give up on exercise; controlling your weight is another way to lessen the load on your feet.
The bottom line is clear: We might not be able to control aging, but we can give our feet a break by using them wisely.