Morton's neuroma

Morton's neuroma is nerve pain in the ball of your foot caused by thickening of tissue around the nerve between your toes.

It's also known as:

  • Morton's metatarsalgia
  • Morton's entrapment
  • Interdigital neuroma
  • Intermetatarsal neuroma
  • Interdigital nerve compression syndrome

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is Morton's neuroma?

Morton’s neuroma usually affects the plantar digital nerve between the third and fourth long bones in the middle of your foot (metatarsal). It's a result of irritation, injury or excessive pressure causing the nerve to enlarge. This leads to pain in the ball of your foot that spreads to your toes.

It’s at least four times more common in women than men, and usually affects people in their 40s and 50s.

It can affect one or both feet. Morton’s neuroma symptoms can usually be alleviated without surgery.

How to tell if you have Morton's neuroma

If you have Morton's neuroma you’re likely to feel:

  • An initial tingling sensation between your toes that develops into a more uncomfortable shooting pain (like having an electric shock)
  • Numbness (loss of sensation) in your toes
  • Pain when you walk – the longer you exercise, the worse the pain. You may also find that some footwear squashes your feet and makes it worse, and that the toe pain eases when you take off your shoes and massage your toes
  • The sensation of a pebble under your foot

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for Morton's neuroma

Your GP is likely to be able to diagnose your condition after feeling your feet to find the tender spot and asking questions about your symptoms. They may ask to move your feet and other joints to rule out arthritis or joint inflammation.

Your GP may refer you to a foot specialist (podiatrist) or an orthotist, who provides devices to help mobility.

Occasionally, your GP may suggest either an MRI scan or ultrasound scan, X-ray or blood test to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

Causes of Morton's neuroma

The exact cause is unknown, but it can occur because of:

  • Stress and irritation to the plantar digital nerve in your foot which has been squashed, stretched or rubbed
  • Wearing narrow shoes (such as pointy toes) that compress the nerves running between the long bones in your foot
  • The growth of a fatty lump (lipoma)

Common treatments for Morton's neuroma

Morton’s neuroma won’t simply go away by itself. Your GP or podiatrist may recommend some simple non-surgical treatments you can do at home to help.

They may recommend:

  • Resting your foot and massaging your toes
  • Using an ice pack
  • Different footwear – a wider toe area may help ease the pressure. You should avoid shoes with high heels, pointed toes and thin soles
  • Orthotic devices – a soft pad insert for the ball of your foot or a custom-made device in your shoe
  • Painkillers – taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen
  • Weight loss – if you're overweight or obese
  • Local anaesthetic injections
  • Steroid injections
  • Cryosurgery or cryotherapy (freezing)
  • Guided alcohol injection

For around one in every three people, these treatments are enough to help them get better.

If the initial treatments don’t help and you’re in severe pain for some time, you may need to have surgery.

The surgery is known as Morton's neuroma excision. The operation involves removing the part of the nerve that's causing the pain. Another surgery is nerve decompression to increase the space around the nerve.

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