If you wear Correct Toes, frequent our websites or watch our You Tube channel, I’m sure you’ve seen us mention metatarsal pads. Perhaps you’ve wondered to yourself, “What are they?” or “Do I need them?”. Well, you’re in luck! Today’s post will answer those questions and more.
Metatarsal pads, a.k.a met pads, are small and typically squishy devices that can be used to re-balance tissue of the lower leg. They can also help align the transverse arch of the foot. With proper placement inside footwear, met pads help to lengthen tissue on the top of the foot, off-load body weight placed on the ball of the foot and help with toe alignment. If you’ve worn conventional shoes at some point in your life, there’s a pretty good chance that a met pad could positively impact your day-to-day mobility.
Let’s take a look at a typical running shoe. You can see from the image below that this running shoe has a slightly elevated heel and toe spring that elevates the toes. Putting your foot in this position impacts your lower leg (and your whole body column) by specifically creating an imbalance between the extensor muscles along the front/side of the lower leg, and the flexor muscles of the calf. To put it another way, the increased cushioning and elevation of the heel shortens the calf muscles, while toe spring elevates the toes and shortens muscles on the top of the foot. Both of these features also impact the bottom of the foot. The elevated heel and toes pull at the bottom of the foot, stretching and destabilizing the transverse arch, among many other structures. This leaves your feet vulnerable to tension in the calf and shin and weakens the bottom of the foot.
The first step to correcting this is to slowly transition to a shoe that is naturally shaped and zero-drop. If you’ve already transitioned, or are in the process of transitioning to a natural shoe, met pads can be the key to making this process a bit smoother. If you’ve explored walking in a flat shoe, you’ve probably had a few eye-opening days to realize that your calves are tight! While the transition to zero-drop shoes can be obvious for your posterior (rear) calf muscles, it can be less obvious for other areas. How do you know if you have tight extensor tendons on the top of your foot? Here’s a quick exercise to help:
1. Take off your shoes and socks.
2. Take a seat on a chair where you can rest both feet firmly on the ground.
3. Using your quad muscles, slowly lift your right foot and lower leg off the ground. Relax your right lower leg and foot, letting the foot dangle and feel heavy.
4. Look at the top of your right foot. Are your toes lying flat, or did they elevate and/or curl from lifting your leg? Do you see a difference between the planted/weighted left foot and the unweighted right foot? If the answer is YES to these questions, you may have tight extensor tendons.
But wait! What if you don’t have tight calf muscles or tight extensors? Can a met pad still help? If you have concerns with foot pain, specifically ball-of-foot pain, here’s how met pads can help. The ball of the foot is the area where the long bones (metatarsals) connect to the bases of the toes. These joints can become overloaded and sore, typically upon impact of the plantar/bottom surface. When a foot is placed in a conventional running shoe, as described above, the ball of the foot becomes the focal point for pressure. The more heel cushion/elevation, or toe spring within a shoe, the more weight goes to the ball of the foot. Common conventional treatments for ball-of-foot pain involve adding cushion under the area of pain. Typically, this is done by the individual seeking out thicker/squishier shoes or purchasing expensive pads to cushion the area of discomfort. Unfortunately, neither of these options address the cause of the pain – pressure on the foot while being held in a poor and unnatural position! If you are experiencing ball-of-foot pain, the physicians behind Correct Toes would encourage you to transition into a shoe that is flat or zero drop. Flat shoes will decrease the weight/pressure on the ball of the foot and instead disperse body weight across the toes. In effect, this off-loads the metatarsal heads. Then, you can place a metatarsal pad along the transverse arch directly behind the metatarsal heads. The pressure in this area will force the toes down into plantarflexion, further distributing weight from the ball of the foot to the toes.
Met pads are a great temporary aid to help your lower legs, feet and toes learn a new position. Whether you’re suffering from tight muscles, muscle imbalances or foot pain, met pads can help to create positive change. When properly placed, met pads can be used safely for as long as you need until the muscles have either learned to hold their new alignment without the aid, or the foot symptoms have gone away. Typical use will vary and can range from months to years. Our website is full of information on how to place a met pad; more information can be found by clicking the links below:
Metatarsal Pad Placement Guide
This 9-step guide demonstrates how and where to place Pedag Metatarsal pads.
Metatarsal Pad Placement Video
This video demonstrates how and where to place Pedag Metatarsal pads.