Metatarsal orthotics are used to support the area near the ball of the foot where the metatarsal bones end. These are the five bones that run from the ankle bones to the ball of the foot. These types of orthotics are often used to ease metatarsalgia, the medical term for foot pain in the forefoot, which is often a symptom of another problem. They are also used by people who need extra support in that area due to conditions like flat feet.
Metatarsalgia is often caused by an inflamed nerve in the ball of the foot, which can be caused by tight or narrow shoes. The repeated stress that running applies to the metatarsal bones can also result in inflamed nerves. Flat feet and fallen arches are other reasons that someone may need the support provided by metatarsal orthotics. These conditions all place extra stress on the area just behind the ends of the metatarsal bones.
A variety of metatarsal orthotics are available, from simple metatarsal pads to full-foot prescription orthotics. The pads can be used in almost any type of shoe, as they are small inserts that usually cover only the ball of the foot. They are designed to provide support just behind the end of the metatarsal bones, to alleviate the pressure in that area. Metatarsal pads are often used to provide support in dress shoes, as they will fit into narrower shoes or be hidden in sandals. They may, however, be used in any type of shoe.
Some over-the-counter orthotics also offer metatarsal support. They are typically characterized by a padded area just behind the end of the metatarsal bones, in the same area where a small metatarsal pad is placed. Full metatarsal orthotics can be used in shoes like boots, athletic shoes, and some casual shoes. Sports orthotics and running orthotics often include metatarsal support.
Custom-made, prescription orthotics are sometimes required for severe metatarsalgia. These are prescribed by a podiatrist who has examined a person's feet and determined that the best remedy for his or her pain is custom orthotics. Custom metatarsal orthotics are designed by the podiatrist to fit and support the specific patient's feet. They are more expensive, but also longer-lasting, than over-the-counter orthotics. A podiatrist can also provide prescription metatarsal pads to be used in shoes that cannot be worn with the full orthotics.