Harvard Women's Health Watch

Foot conditions: Recognizing and treating Morton's neuroma

Foot conditions

Recognizing and treating Morton's neuroma

Almost everyone's feet take a pounding throughout life, but women have more foot problems than men do. One of those problems is Morton's neuroma. The name might suggest a cancer, as in sarcoma or lymphoma, but Morton's neuroma is not a cancerous condition. The cause is a thickening of the nerve tissue between the bones at the base of the toes. Symptoms include pain and burning in the ball of the foot and often numbness in the toes. Morton's neuroma is about 10 times more common in women than in men; women in their 30s and 40s who wear high-fashion shoes are particularly vulnerable. To relieve the symptoms and treat the condition, you generally start by making changes in your footwear. If the pain persists, there are other approaches — including, as a last resort, surgery.

What causes Morton's neuroma?

A neuroma in the foot develops when a nerve thickens in response to chronic irritation caused by injury or compression. Most often affected are branches of the plantar nerve, which supplies feeling to the bottom of the foot (see illustration). Morton's neuroma, named after a doctor who described the condition in 1876, is a neuroma that usually occurs between the metatarsal bones of the third and fourth toes and occasionally between the second and third toes.

Anatomy of Morton's neuroma

Along the bottom of the foot, the nerves of the toes pass between the metatarsal bones. Morton's neuroma often arises in the space between the metatarsal bones of the third and fourth toes, just before the nerve divides into two branches. Problems occur in this space partly because this nerve is thicker here than the nerves between the other toes, and it's confined from above by the ligament that holds the metatarsal bones together (the transverse metatarsal ligament).

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