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Do Your Feet Hurt?

From your heels to your toes, find what you can do for your foot pain

2. Morton's Neuroma

If you feel as if you have a pebble in your shoe or that your sock is bunched up under your toes each time you take a step, you may have a Morton's neuroma, a pinched nerve in the foot named for Philadelphia surgeon T.G. Morton, who wrote about it in 1876.

Symptoms

  • Tingling, burning or numbness on the ball of your foot between the third and fourth toe.
  • Discomfort or pain that starts out only occasionally, but eventually persists for days or weeks at a time.

Causes

The nerve between the third and fourth toe becomes irritated and then painful, but the exact cause of the irritation is unknown. Common offenders seem to be tight shoes and high heels that compress and irritate the nerve. Certain foot problems such as bunions, flat feet, hammer toes or high arches may also play a role.

What you can do

  • Wear wider shoes with lower heels and a soft sole, which allow the bones to spread out, relieving pressure on the nerve.
  • Use an ice pack on the affected area for 20 minutes several times a day to reduce swelling.
  • Stay away from activities that put repetitive pressure on the neuroma, such as tennis or jogging, until the condition improves. Now is a good time to try yoga or Pilates instead.

What your doctor can do

Your doctor can show you how to pad your foot or may prescribe custom orthotic devices for your shoe to reduce pressure on the nerve. If necessary, cortisone injections into the affected area of the foot help to relieve the inflammation. The injections are given every two months until the condition improves, up to a maximum of three shots. If these treatments don't work, you may need surgery either to remove the nerve or the thickened tissue around the nerve. Full recovery may take as little as four weeks, but it depends on the specific procedure.

3. Plantar Fasciitis

A tough, protective ligament (the plantar fascia) that runs from the heel bone to the base of the toes acts as a shock absorber and support for the arch of the foot. Over time, small tears develop and the tissue becomes inflamed. This condition is called plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms

  • Mild pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel.
  • A sharp, shooting pain in the heel when you first step down on your foot in the morning, which subsides after a few minutes of walking.
  • Heel pain after, not during, exercise.

Causes

You're more likely to develop plantar fasciitis if you have high or low arches; are obese, overweight or gain weight suddenly; have tight Achilles tendons; or wear shoes with poor arch support or soft soles.

What you can do

  • Increase the flexibility of the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia with stretching exercises.
  • Wear shoes that are supportive and well-cushioned.
  • Roll your foot over a chilled or frozen bottle of water for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation.
  • Try to drop some pounds if you're overweight to relieve pressure on your feet.

What your doctor can do

Your doctor may recommend heel pads or shoe inserts to reduce the pain. Injections of cortisone into the ligament — every two months for a total of three shots max — can relieve inflammation. A night splint to stretch the plantar fascia is effective and, although difficult to sleep with, doesn't have to be used once the pain is gone. If you have severe chronic plantar fasciitis that doesn't respond to traditional treatments, your doctor may consider an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). In this procedure, your own blood's platelets are used to kick-start healing. Treatments are Food and Drug Administration-approved, but may not be permanent and insurance doesn't cover the often considerable cost. Your doctor may also prescribe visits to a physical therapist.

Next page: Toenail fungus. »

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