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What does the word metatarsalgia mean?

Metatarsalgia is a commonly used term that does not mean much. The metatarsals are the long bone behind the toes in the feet and the suffix -algia means pain, so metatarsalgia just means pain in the metatarsals area. That is quite meaningless as a diagnosis as the pain could be due to, literally, 100’s of different things. To use the term metatarsalgia is like using the term ‘sore knee’. It is not a diagnosis and is just a non-specific terms for pain in the ball of the foot. This is important as getting the diagnosis right is really important and the first step in getting the treatment right. There is no treatment for metatarsalgia. There is treatment for the many different things that cause pain in the region of the metatarsals.

Probably the most common reason for pain in this region is a condition known as a plantar plate tear. The plantar plate is a strong ligament underneath the joints in the ball of the foot that give stability to the joint and protect it. If there is too high a level of activity and the toes get pulled back or dorsiflexed too much, then that ligament can getting straining resulting is what is known as plantar plate dysfunction. If that strain continue them as small tear might develop in the ligament. Another reason for pain is this region could be what is known as sesamoiditis which is some inflammation of the tissues surrounding the small sesamoid bone at the base of the big toe. This often due to too much weight on those bones, resulting in the inflammation. Just from these two examples it should be clear that they are two totally different conditions that could get lumped under that meaningless terms, metatarsalgia. The treatment for these two conditions are totally different, so it should be obvious why that term should no longer be used.