When people send packages with delicate contents, typically they pack the sensitive objects in something soft to help protect them. These packing materials, whether Styrofoam, bubble wrap, or simple packing paper, are designed to prevent unnecessary movement as well as help absorb any shock. Your body has tissues to do this, too. Around your joints, which deal with quite a lot of motion and impacts, these tissue capsules help the joint work efficiently. However, you can also develop painful capsulitis that inhibits motion.
Joint “Packaging” for Stable Movement
Capsulitis is the painful inflammation of the ligaments that form a protective and stabilizing capsule around a joint. The capsule helps hold the bones of the joint in place, so they don’t dislocate when you move. Excessive pressure on the capsule irritates and inflames it, weakening the ligaments. The condition can develop anywhere in the body, but the most common location for it in the lower limbs is the first joint of your second toe.
Many different factors can add pressure to the ball of the foot and cause irritation in a toe joint capsule. Your foot structure may play a role, directing more pressure to the forefoot than normal. High arches and uneven metatarsal lengths can direct a lot of that excess pressure at the second toe. Preexisting conditions like bunions may contribute to the discomfort as well. Wearing shoes like high heels or models with flat, flimsy soles can aggravate the ball of the foot, too.
When the Packing Breaks Down
As time goes on, the problem causes increasing discomfort in the ball of the foot. Your toe will hurt to move, and you may find it difficult to wear some shoes. You may feel like you’re standing on a stone bruise or have a wrinkle in your sock. Sometimes there is swelling around the affected area. The longer the pressure impacts the toe, the weaker the ligaments in the capsule become. Given enough time, you risk the toe becoming dislocated. The digit may drift toward the big toe, eventually crossing over the top of it. This is the most advanced stage of capsulitis.
Restoring the Capsule to Health and Comfort
Treatment for this ball of the foot pain is usually conservative. You’ll need to have the problem accurately diagnosed to address it correctly—the symptoms often resemble other ball of the foot problems that need different management. Careful tests, manipulating the toes, and feeling the forefoot helps our doctors determine the specific cause of your discomfort. Then our staff will help you begin therapies to resolve the pain and stabilize the capsule.
You’ll need to reduce the stress on the forefoot. This often means changing your footwear to models with low heels, padded soles, and sufficient midfoot support. Adding orthotics may help as well; these can provide extra cushioning in the shoe as well as correct biomechanical issues that may have caused the excess pressure. You’ll also need to decrease the irritation in your ligaments. Ice the ball of your foot to help minimize swelling and inflammation in the tissues. We may recommend anti-inflammatory medications, particularly for stubborn pain.
On a rare occasion, you may need surgery to correct a dislocated toe or issues from uneven metatarsal bones. If your digit doesn’t respond to conservative methods, it will continue to worsen with time and pressure. To truly restore your foot and relieve your pain then, you’ll need a procedure to realign your toe, or reposition or shorten your metatarsal heads.
Capsulitis is just one possible source of your ball of the foot pain, but it can cause significant toe weakness and make walking more uncomfortable. You don’t have to learn to live with the problem, however. You can take steps to eliminate it. Let us know at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona in Chandler and Gilbert outside of Phoenix, AZ. See how we can help. To make an appointment with us, simply submit an online form, call, or fax either of our two offices: for the Chandler location, call (480) 963-9000 and fax (480) 963-0375; to reach our Gilbert office, call (480) 981-1800 and fax (480) 981-0229.