What is Morton’s neuroma?

Morton’s neuroma affects your forefoot or ball of your foot, between the metatarsal bones and toes. It’s also called intermetatarsal neuroma. When you have Morton’s neuroma, the nerve between the bones of your toes may become swollen and inflamed. You usually feel it on the bottom of your foot, between your toes. The neuroma can feel painful and make it hard to walk.

Getting treatment for Morton’s neuroma is important. The neuroma can become larger without treatment. The nerve damage may become permanent.

Is Morton’s neuroma a tumor?

The “neuroma” in Morton’s neuroma is slightly misleading. Neuromas are noncancerous (benign) tumors found on nerves throughout the body. They involve a growth of extra nerve tissue.

With Morton’s neuroma, there’s no growth and no tumor. Instead, the existing tissue around the nerve becomes inflamed and gets bigger.

Where does Morton’s neuroma happen?

Usually, the neuroma happens between the bones of your third and fourth toes. Those are the two toes closest to the pinky toe (toe No. 5). But Morton’s neuroma can form between the second and third toes as well.

You develop the condition when the nerve suffers excessive pressure or compression between the toes. That compression (squeezing) causes inflammation and irritation.

Who gets Morton’s neuroma?

You may face a higher risk of developing Morton’s neuroma from:

  • Foot shape: If you were born with flat feet, high arches or toes in an unusual position, you might have instability around the toe joints. That instability can lead to Morton’s neuroma.
  • Certain medical conditions: Some foot conditions that develop over time can raise your risk of developing Morton’s neuroma. Examples include bunions and hammertoes.
  • Sports: Sports such as running, tennis and other racquet sports require a lot of pressure on the balls of your feet as you run. Athletes are also more likely to injure their foot, which can lead to Morton’s neuroma.
  • Shoe choice: High heels (more than 2 inches high) can cause problems. So can tight-fitting, narrow or pointed-toe shoes. All these shoes put extra pressure on the balls of your feet and limit toe movement.

How common is Morton’s neuroma?

About 1 in 3 people have Morton’s neuroma. It occurs more often in women than men, likely because of shoe styles. Women are about 8 to 10 times more likely than men to develop Morton’s neuroma.

What causes Morton’s neuroma?

An irritated or damaged nerve between the toe bones causes Morton’s neuroma. You feel it on the ball of your foot. Common causes of the nerve reacting this way include:

  • Being born with a congenital foot problem.
  • Pressuring the ball of the foot while running during certain sports.
  • Wearing shoes that prioritize style over support.

What are the symptoms of Morton’s neuroma?

You may not see noticeable signs of Morton’s neuroma on your foot. Since it’s not a tumor, you won’t see a lump, for example. You may feel some pain at first, though it tends to start slowly. In the beginning, you can often improve your symptoms by taking your shoe off and massaging your foot.

Symptoms of Morton’s neuroma get worse over time. These symptoms include:

  • Sharp, stinging or burning pain between the toes when you stand or walk.
  • Swelling between the toes.
  • Tingling (feeling pins and needles) and numbness in your foot.
  • Sense there’s a bunched-up sock or small rock under the ball of your foot.
  • Pain that’s worse when you wear high-heeled shoes or stand on the balls of your feet.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy