Think back to the last time you banged your elbow on something hard and felt your whole lower arm go numb—or imagine sitting in one position for too long and having your foot fall “asleep.” In both of these situations, a sensitive nerve was pinched and you felt the pain afterward. Pinching or compressing a nerve over a longer period of time can result in serious, potentially permanent damage. This is the concern with neuromas.
Frazzled Foot Nerves
Neuromas are small enlargements of nervous tissue that develop when the tissue is compressed or irritated, particularly over a period of time. The nerve swells and starts to misfire, creating pain. These can develop anywhere, though the most common place in the foot is between the metatarsals, where pressure on the bones and soft tissues can easily pinch or trap a nerve.
This particular nerve swelling is called Morton’s neuroma, and it’s usually between the third and fourth toes. You end up with a burning, tingling, or aching pain in the forefoot, particularly in the area and the toes where the damaged nerve is. You may develop numbness there as well. Sometimes the space between the toes swells. Usually the pain worsens when you put pressure on the ball of the foot and then lessens with rest.
The Source of Irritation
Anything that directs pressure to the ball of the foot could potentially cause neuromas to develop. Usually high or flat arches don’t absorb shock or distribute body weight well. This can bring on instability in the toe joints that then pinch the nerves. Improper shoes that squeeze the toes or the ball of the foot can compress the nerves, too. High heels force your weight to shift forward so the ball of the foot supports most of it, which may irritate nervous tissue. Repetitive stress and sudden trauma can also aggravate your nerves and lead to thickening and swelling.
Relaxing and Relieving the Pain
Regardless as to how the problem developed, you do need treatment. Nerves are very sensitive, and any damage to them can become permanent if left unaddressed for too long. Our podiatry staff at Martin Foot and Ankle will examine your lower limbs carefully to locate any neuromas and determine the severity. We may use diagnostic images and other tests to rule out other conditions. Then we will help you begin targeted treatment to relieve the pain.
The most important step is to reduce the pressure on the pinched nerve. This may mean padding the forefoot to add extra cushioning under the sensitive area, or adding support under your arch so there is less pressure on the ball of the foot. You might need to change your footwear. Avoid models with narrow or pointed toe boxes, and keep heels less than two inches high.
Scale back or take a break from repetitive, hard-impact activities, too. This gives your foot time to recover. We may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications. On rare occasions, these methods are not enough to alleviate your discomfort. Surgery to decompress or even remove the damaged nerve may then be your best option.
Neuromas are painful problems that can lead to chronic pain and nerve damage. They need prompt care for conservative efforts to make a difference. Don’t wait until surgery is your only option for relief. Let Martin Foot and Ankle help. Contact our podiatry offices in Lancaster, Lititz, York, and Hanover, PA, for an appointment. Use the website or call (717) 757-3537 to reach us.