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A very common injury -- in soccer and other sports -- involves damaging of the metatarsal bones.

The metatarsal bones are directly behind the toes and can be a problem in any sport. The most common location of pain is under the head of the second metatarsal bone, which is located behind the second toe area, and under the first metatarsal head -- sesamoid or accessory bone area -- just behind the bottom surface of the big toe.

Also common in this area are stress fractures, which usually cause swelling on top of the foot. If there's pain between the toes, radiating into the toes then into the arch, a Morton's neuroma, or enlarged nerve, at the bottom of the foot may be present.

Other common areas of pain are bunions and hammertoes. Bunions can occur either on the outside of the big toe joint or outside of the little toe joint. This area may become red, hot, swollen and very painful.

A hammertoe is a contracted or claw-like toe. The contraction usually occurs as a result of imbalances of bone structures or muscles making the toe stick up higher than normal and causing pressure both from the bone inside the toe and from the shoe outside.

Both conditions respond well to orthotic control. In more severe cases, surgical intervention is used. In the prevention of these common injuries, it's important to understand the warning signs of stiffness, swelling and mild pain.

Listen to your body. At the first sign of pain, cut back on your exercise program and evaluate what is going wrong. Correct the problem, and then slowly build back to your original program as the pain subsides.

Dr. Robert F. Weiss is a Sport Podiatrist.