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Happy Feet: Finding Relief for Morton’s Neuroma

Have you ever felt a sharp or burning pain in the ball of your foot? Or maybe it seems like there is a small rock or pebble in your shoe, even when there isn’t? These could be signs of something called Morton’s neuroma, a common issue with the nerves of the feet. 

Morton’s neuroma is one cause of metatarsalgia, a medical term that refers to pain that is felt in the ball of the foot. While it won’t make you sick, the condition can make walking and running a real pain.

Read on to understand more about this condition, what signs to look for and most importantly, how to make the pain disappear.

What is Morton’s neuroma?

Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the nerve tissues between the bones at the base of the toes, usually the third and fourth toes. While the name may suggest it is cancerous, this type of neuroma is not.

“The term ‘Morton’s neuroma’ is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not a true neuroma in the sense of a benign tumor or growth of the nerve tissue,” said Damien Richardson, MD, a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon with Banner – University Medicine. “In this case, it means an enlargement of the nerve and not a malignancy or cancer.”

The condition is caused by repeated stress, irritation and pressure at the ball of the foot. Some factors that may increase your risk are:

  • Wearing tight, narrow or high-heeled shoes regularly can squeeze the toes and increase pressure on the front of the toes and feet. 
  • Doing activities like jogging or running that involve repetition can increase the load on the balls of your feet.
  • Doing physical work that requires long periods of standing on your feet.
  • Having certain health conditions that affect your feet – like bursitis, hammertoe, flat feet or high arches – make you more likely to develop it.

Signs to watch out for

The symptoms of Morton’s neuroma are usually pain and burning in the ball of the foot, which may shoot down into your toes. It may feel like you have a pebble in your shoe. 

You may also feel numbness or tingling between the toes and notice pain and swelling under the ball of your foot. 

Ways to find relief 

Morton’s neuroma can be a painful condition, but there are several ways to find relief. 

Choose comfortable footwear

Look for shoes with a wide toe box, stiff sole and a rounded or rocker bottom heel.

“A simple method of figuring out if the toe box is wide enough is to trace your foot on a piece of paper,” Dr. Richardson said. “Then place your shoe over it to see if your foot is wider or is as wide as the shoe on top.” 

[Also read “7 Common Shoe Mistakes That Could Be Crushing Your Feet.”]

Orthotic inserts

You can purchase custom or over-the-counter shoe inserts to cushion the bottom of the foot. 

“Complementing shoes with an orthotic that is soft and molds to your foot can go a long way in helping with pain relief,” Dr. Richardson said.

Change activities

Avoid activities that put pressure on your toes, like wearing high heels or narrow shoes, high-impact exercises or long periods of standing or walking.

Foot massage

Gently massage your foot to help relax the muscles and reduce tension. This can provide temporary relief from the pain.

Toe exercises

Perform gentle toe exercises, like picking up small objects with your toes, to help strengthen the muscles in your feet and improve flexibility.


Apply ice or cold packs to the ball of your foot for about 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. This can help reduce swelling and numb the area. Learn more about proper icing and heating techniques.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. Talk to your provider before taking any new medications.

Steroid injections

If your pain continues, your provider may recommend corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain. 

Morton’s neuroma surgery

Most people don’t need surgery for Morton’s neuroma, but your provider may recommend it if other treatments don’t help. Two common surgeries are resecting the nerve and decompression.

“Nerve resection or neurectomy involves the removal or partial removal of the affected nerve,” Dr. Richardson said. “Decompression means we remove or alter the structures in the area that may be pressing on the nerve and free the nerve from any soft tissues that may be connected to it, causing symptoms.”

The choice between both surgeries depends on many factors, including the severity of the symptoms, your overall health and the surgeon’s preference. “However, decompression has been gaining more popularity as a first-line treatment, reserving nerve resection for later if there is still no pain relief,” Dr. Richardson said.

After surgery, you will have a cast or boot to help protect your foot. You’ll need to rest and do physical therapy. Recovery can take a few weeks to months.

It’s important to note that, as with any surgery, there are potential risks and complications. Before deciding on surgery, discuss your options with your provider or an orthopedic surgeon to understand the benefits and risks.

Bottom line

Dealing with Morton’s neuroma doesn’t mean you have to put your best foot forward in pain. By identifying your symptoms early on and making lifestyle changes and conservative treatments, you can find relief and enjoy your daily activities.

If your pain continues, see your health care provider, an orthopedic surgeon or a Banner Health specialist to explore the most suitable treatment option for you. 

Remember, a little TLC for your feet can go a long way to keep Morton’s neuroma from slowing you down.

To keep your feet happy and healthy, check out these related articles:

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