metatarsalgiaMorton’s neuroma, also called metatarsalgia, is a painful swelling of one of the nerves leading to the toes, causing pain in the ball of the foot. It most commonly occurs between the third and fourth toes. Morton’s neuroma may cause the feeling of a pebble in your shoe. Other symptoms may be a sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot and tingling, numbness, stinging or burning in the toes.

Doctors don’t understand exactly what causes Morton’s neuroma. The condition is believed to be a response to irritation, injury or pressure to one of the nerves that lead to the toes. The body responds to the injury or irritation with the growth of thickened nerve tissue (neuroma). Factors that contribute to Morton’s neuroma include high-impact sports, foot deformities, and choice of footwear, especially high heels or tight shoes (that might be required in certain sports) that put pressure on the toes.

Morton’s neuroma may be relieved or resolved by changing footwear or using arch supports or foot pads to help reduce pressure on the nerve and modifying or taking a break from activities that cause stress to the foot. Physiotherapy may also be recommended. In more severe cases, corticosteroid injections or surgery may be recommended.

However, in many cases morton’s neuroma does not resolve on its own and this is where acupuncture can help. Acupuncture can be of great assistance because of the way in which it supports the body’s healing processes. By reducing inflammation and increasing circulation to the foot as well as influencing the body’s healing mechanisms, acupuncture helps to shorten recovery time and encourages a more complete recovery.

In Chinese medicine (TCM), pain is seen as a blockage of the body’s circulation of qi-energy and blood, which effectively starves the area of necessary nutrients. When we continue to put our regular demands on the foot and it is unable to properly perform its functions, it becomes vulnerable to pain and injury. Acupuncture helps to remove the blockages so that qi-energy and blood can flow properly again, thus strengthening the area and promoting healthier functioning.

Sometimes there are underlying imbalances or contributing lifestyle factors which may also come into play with pain conditions. Usually the location of the pain will point towards these factors and the meridians affected. In the case of Morton’s neuroma, the foot has all of the meridians passing through it so an imbalance with any of these meridians, but especially the stomach meridian, may also contribute to weakness to this area of the foot. What would cause a meridian imbalance? Well, these can be factors such as our genetics and our lifestyle, whether it be our occupation, the exercise or sports we choose, our response to stress, how much sleep we get, our emotions, or our nutrition and diet. Over time, our habits and patterns can lead to corresponding patterns of imbalance within our bodies- which is why many of our health symptoms start to appear in middle age. By also addressing these underlying factors, we can further strengthen the foot and improve overall health, with the goal of preventing future reoccurrence.

In practice, I have seen acupuncture yield great results for Morton’s neuroma. This condition can be particularly challenging for people to overcome, simply because we require our feet for so much of what we do in daily life. However, acupuncture can usually give results fairly quickly, and with continued treatments can help to resolve the condition, eventually allowing many people to return to their former activities.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna.