Flattened spots, even small ones, can impair movement. Imagine a flat tire on a bicycle. It slows down and impairs your riding, making it much harder for you to get anywhere. You can get a “flat tire effect” in your feet as well from the flattening of a metatarsal head. This uncommon condition, called Freiberg’s disease, can cause significant forefoot and toe pain that takes time to heal.
Flattening a Metatarsal Head
Freiberg’s disease isn’t a disease at all in reality. It’s a progressive injury to one of the metatarsal heads in the ball of your foot. Usually the metatarsals attached to your second or third toes are affected. Something causes the head of the bone, where it meets your toe, to flatten down. No one is entirely sure what causes the injury to develop in the first place, though it seems to be a multi-faceted problem. It may be related to an injury to the ball of your foot that damages the metatarsal, or a problem with the blood supply to the toe that allows the tissue there to weaken. Sometimes the condition does run in families as well. Frequent heavy pressure on the forefoot, particularly from shoes and sports, make it more likely you’ll develop the problem.
Your Symptoms and Risks
Anyone can develop Freiberg’s disease, though it’s most common in teenagers and young adults, especially young women. As the metatarsal head flattens, putting pressure on that digit becomes increasingly uncomfortable. The joint stiffens and becomes less moveable, too. The area around the affected digit may swell and be tender to the touch. Often the pain is worse when you’re active and improves when you rest. Shoes that pinch the forefoot or put abnormal pressure on the ball of the foot, like high heels, can make it worse as well. Many people even limp when the pain is particularly intense.
Eliminating the Damage
You will need to have Freiberg’s disease accurately diagnosed so you can get the treatment you need. Dr. Brandon S. Percival, Dr. Julie A. Percival, and Dr. William Harris will examine your forefoot and check it for more common causes of ball of foot pain to rule them out. Our staff will need to use diagnostic images and possibly other tests to check for this rare condition. Once the damage has been identified, we can help you begin treatment.
You’ll need to reduce and possibly remove all weight from the ball of your foot. You’ll also need to wear a special boot or possibly a cast to immobilize your forefoot while the bone heals. We may recommend anti-inflammatory medication to help alleviate discomfort during this time. Once the problem has resolved, you’ll need to wear comfortable, cushioned footwear that doesn’t put added pressure on the ball of your foot. Orthotic support may help as well. Then you can ease back into your activities. If your foot isn’t responding to these conservative measures, surgery might be necessary.
Conditions like Freiberg’s disease are rare, but to those they affect, they are serious and painful problems. Don’t ignore your forefoot and toe pain, particularly if what you’re doing to manage it isn’t working. Let our team at Carolina Podiatry Group in South Carolina help you address and heal your discomfort. Make an appointment with us today through our online form. You can also call us directly: (803) 548-FEET for our Fort Mill location, or (803) 285-1411 for our Lancaster office.