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Running And Morton’s Neuroma

Discussions on problems associated with running with flat feet are often limited to how supportive your shoes are. For some low-arch and flat-footed runners, though, the problems can be more severe. Morton’s neuroma is one such condition.

Although uncomfortable, Morton’s neuroma is curable in most instances, so you can get back to your normal running self.

By the end of this post, you’ll know how it happens, how common it is, and what treatments there are for it. 

What is Morton’s Neuroma?

Morton’s neuroma is a condition that impacts the ball of your foot, typically between your second, third, or fourth toes.  It is caused when nerve tissue around your toes thickens. This can result from a small toe box or high-heeled shoes. This is why women are more likely to suffer from Morton’s neuroma. It can also occur just from running and the stress that running puts on your feet. 

The condition feels a bit like you have a pebble in your shoe or a fold in your sock. You’re more likely to get Morton’s neuroma if you have foot deformities like bunions, hammertoes, or high or low arches.

If you participate in sports like rock climbing that require tight shoes, this might make Morton’s neuroma more likely for you.

What Are the Symptoms of Morton’s Neuroma?

You can experience a variety of symptoms, especially as things get worse. Most common is an uncomfortable feeling like a pebble in your shoe. As the condition worsens, you might experience burning pain, numbness, and tingling. As the nerve enlarges, your symptoms will become more painful.

This is when temporary damage starts to become permanent. It’s important to talk to a doctor if you’ve tried to fix the problem yourself and there hasn’t been any lessening in the pain.

Sometimes you can even have Morton’s neuroma without experiencing any symptoms. For example, one small study found that on MRI scans, 28 people out of 85 people (33 percent!) had Morton’s neuroma but did not experience any pain.

Is Morton’s Neuroma Common With Runners?

Yes. Morton’s neuroma is common with running and other high intensity sports where you are putting a lot of repeated stress and pressure on your feet. If you don’t have the right footwear, this can make the situation worse.

As we mentioned above, it’s particularly common for female runners. Women who wear high heels all day see higher instances than others. Women with especially low or high arches also are at an elevated risk.

What Treatments Are There For Morton’s Neuroma?

The good news is that Morton’s neuroma can often be treated at home with 80+ percent success rate, according to several studies. This means that you likely won’t have to see a doctor to get injections or to have surgery. Here are some things you can do at home.

Ice Your Feet and Take Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

You can start with icing your feet and taking anti-inflammatory drugs. If this does the trick, then maybe you just had a bad day – a little foot pain doesn’t signify a neuroma. But you’ll want to be aware of pain in the future so that it doesn’t get worse.

Change Your Shoes

One small study found that almost 50% of people who simply changed their footwear didn’t need any additional treatment. One of the first things you should try is getting shoes with a roomier toe box. Quitting the high heels is another fail-safe measure to fix or prevent Morton’s neuroma.

Related: Best Running Shoes For Morton’s Neuroma

If you have to wear high heels to meet with a client, for example, make sure that you always have a pair of flats nearby. Avoid wearing high heels for the entire day. Wearing padded socks or footwear may also help when you’re running.

You might even be able to keep the shoes that you have now if you tie them differently. Most shoes have many different eyelets, and you don’t have to thread the laces through every single one. If you want to put less pressure on your foot and widen the toe box, try this lacing technique.

Finally, if you have to stand for long periods of time at work or home, get a cushioned anti-fatigue mat. These staples of professional kitchens and bars relieve pressure on your feet. Wearing compression socks may also help.

Stretch/Physical Therapy

If you’re still having some difficulties with new shoes, you might consider working on stretching exercises. Loosening up your ligaments and tendons as well as massaging the ball of your foot can ease symptoms.

You could also look into physical therapy and/or strengthening exercises to make your ankles and toes stronger so that your foot is more capable of dealing with extra pressure due to running.

Insert a Pad or Insole in Your Shoes

Experiment with an insole (padding your footwear) or get a metatarsal/neuroma pad (also known as met pads). These can help to ease pressure on the neuroma. Your doctor will be of great help to figure out what met pads are best for you. There are several different designs.

Orthotics or over-the-counter inserts can also be a great way to take pressure off the ball of your feet. Less pressure means it less likely for Morton’s neuroma to appear. These will encompass your entire foot as opposed to being a small pad, so it all depends on what is comfortable for you.

Cut Back on Mileage

Although this is the last thing that any runner wants to hear, you might be running too much. Dial back your mileage, cross-train on your easy days, or add in a couple more rest days. Repetitive stress is a danger inherent in running, and varying your routine more is a good, and fun, precaution to take.

It’s definitely annoying to have to tone things down, but if it means that you don’t have to deal with weeks of recovering from surgery, it’s definitely worth it. So try running less this week and see if it helps. You may also want to try running on some softer surfaces, like grass.

See a Doctor

If it doesn’t improve, see a doctor. Morton’s neuroma can, in cases, move from temporary damage to permanent. In rare cases, you will need to have surgery, which can involve several days to several weeks of recovery.

For over 75 percent of cases, surgery will relieve or reduce symptoms. Another study found that 96 percent of people improved after receiving surgery. In a few cases, however, Morton’s neuroma reappears after surgery.

Final Thoughts

Just because runners are at a higher risk for Morton’s neuroma doesn’t mean that you have to deal with it. By making sure that you’re getting the proper footwear with plenty of room in the toe box, taking time to stretch and rest, and avoiding high heels as much as possible, you shouldn’t have any issues.

If you do, though, there’s a good chance that you can treat Morton’s neuroma easily at home. However, it’s important to stay on top of how your feet are feeling so that you’re aware of anything that might pop up.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner