The spontaneous development of pain in children generally indicates some form of injury to the growth plate of a growing bone. This can occur without a specific memorable event. When pain occurs in the ball of a child's foot the most likely cause is injury to the growth plate of one of the long bones behind the toes called metatarsals. The most common bone involved is the metatarsal behind the second toe. When numbering the toes the big toe is the first toe.
This condition is called Freiberg's disease. This disorder is most frequently seen in the adolescent between the ages of 13 - 15 years of age. It is three times as likely to occur in females as compared to males. The pain is a result of a loss of blood flow to the growth plate in the bone.
The diagnosis of Friebergs disease is made by x-ray evaluation. X-rays will reveal a flattening of the head of the metatarsal bone. Early changes may be very subtle or not apparent. On physical exam there may be swelling in the area that is tender to touch. A useful tool for diagnosing growth plate injuries and stress fracture is to strike a tuning fork and placing the vibrating tuning fork on the area of the suspected site of injury. Pain with vibration may indicate bone or growth plate injury.
Treatment consists of reducing pressure under the affected bone. This may consist of anything from using crutches to a custom insole for the shoe called an orthotic. Left untreated the affected bone may not develop properly and permeate damage to the joint behind the affect toe may result in painful arthritis. Once the joint becomes arthritic surgery to place an artificial joint may be required.