Are you feeling foot pain or stiffness at the ball of your foot that affects your daily activities? You might suffer from capsulitis, a common Foot and Ankle condition affecting the soft tissue around the toe joint.

Capsulitis can cause pain and swelling at the ball of your foot, making routine activities like running or playing sports difficult. But what exactly is capsulitis, and how can it get treated?

What Exactly is Capsulitis?

A patient tapes her second toe for capsulitis treatment.
Capsulitis, often specifically capsulitis of the second toe, is when the second metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint becomes irritated and inflamed. The ligaments form a capsule around the joint to help it to function correctly. The inflammation caused by capsulitis can lead to considerable discomfort and pain in the toe(s). Though capsulitis is most common in the second toe joint, it can also affect the other joints in the toe.

It is essential to seek treatment for this condition as soon as symptoms are noticed to avoid further complications or damage to your joints and ligaments. Some cases that do not get properly treated may even cause a hammertoe deformity if the joint(s) become dislocated.

Why Does Capsulitis Happen?

Capsulitis is caused by various factors, including overuse or injury to the toe joint, poor foot mechanics, wearing ill-fitting shoes, sudden trauma, or having certain medical conditions such as arthritis. Repetitive activities like running or dancing can also cause it.

The ball of the foot absorbs a lot of impactnormally and repetitive stress on the area can cause irritation and swelling. Essentially, any abnormal mechanics to the foot can cause capsulitis.

A physician will diagnose the condition, but common symptoms of capsulitis include the following:

  • Pain in the ball of the foot (similar to stepping on a pebble in your shoe)
  • Swelling in the affected area, including the base of the toe
  • Pain walking
  • Swollen second toe
  • Toe joint pain
  • Difficulty wearing shoes

If these symptoms persist, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the right course of action to treat your condition.

How Can Capsulitis Be Prevented?

Capsulitis can be prevented by taking certain precautions to protect the toe joint. It is important to wear shoes that fit properly and provide adequate support for your feet. Shoes with a wide toe box and arch support are ideal for preventing capsulitis. Additionally, avoiding activities that put too much stress on the toes, such as running or jumping, is important. If you avoid walking barefoot or wearing high-heeled shoes extensively it will often help decrease stress on the toe joints. Stretching exercises can also reduce the risk of developing the condition.

Treating Metatarsal Capsulitis

Treating metatarsal capsulitis usually involves a combination of common nonsurgical options like rest, ice, shoe inserts or pads, and possibly physical therapy. Resting the affected area is important to allow the ligaments and tendons to heal properly. Applying ice to the area can help reduce inflammation and pain. Medications such as oral or topical anti-inflammatories can be used to help reduce the irritation of foot capsulitis. Physical therapy can also be beneficial in helping strengthen the muscles around the toe joint, as well as by improving overall flexibility and range of motion. Metatarsal pads in the shoe or possibly custom shoe inserts may also provide relief for pain in the toe joints.

Occasionally your physician may recommend a cortisone injection to reduce the swelling and pain in the affected area. Injections in this area should be used sparingly, however, as there can be risks of weakening the surrounding ligaments and fat pad cushion of the toes.

As stated, ignoring earlier stages of capsulitis can cause further complications. In some advanced stages, your provider may advise surgical intervention to treat metatarsal capsulitis if all nonsurgical measures fail. Often surgery for this condition will involve other procedures to address underlying causes and conditions associated with the capsulitis, such as bunion and hammertoe corrections. Depending on the severity of the condition will determine what surgery your surgeon will recommend.

Some surgical treatments will require the toe ligaments to get repaired. Others may require the surgeon to shorten the length of the toe if the toe is too long. No matter the surgery, be sure to follow the instructions of your physician to recover appropriately. Failure to follow may result in a prolonged recovery or another surgery.

Emerge Stronger, Healthier, and Better

You can combat toe capsulitis effectively with the right treatment plan and early preventative measures. The EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region orthopedic foot and ankle specialists will help you diagnose and treat foot capsulitis. To learn more, request an appointment, self-schedule an appointment, or call us any time at (919) 220-5255 to emerge stronger, healthier, and better.