In June of 2013, more than two years ago, anyone reading this blog for ideas on how to beat knee pain would have been astounded to see me in person. I was a mess -- a limping mess. At the time, I thought (my dark sense of humor) that if someone posted a video of me walking on YouTube, sales of Saving My Knees would evaporate overnight.
But it wasn’t my knees.
It was my right foot.
Here’s the narrative of what happened (which, during a search for a cure, I later repeated to three different podiatrists).
One Saturday morning in mid-June, I went for my usual grueling bike ride of 45 miles or so. That afternoon, about five hours after I climbed off the bike, I got out of a chair in my apartment and began limping. Right out of the blue. It felt like I had pulled a little muscle in the ball of my foot. I remember shrugging and thinking, “Ah, just walk it off.”
But the nagging little injury persisted. Over the next week, it got better, but didn’t go away. Then, the following weekend, I made what turned out to be a huge blunder. I was house hunting and ended up walking for hours, checking out homes and neighborhoods in a town we were thinking of moving to. The next morning, my foot was really hurting. I was limping badly.
Now let’s fast forward about six months, or this will get really long.
The foot still hurt, though the pain had subsided to an occasional numbness/soreness. During the summer, I had taken a month or so off from cycling (I should’ve taken a few months, right after the initial incident, but I was dumb in that macho male way). I had experimented with a few things, at one point even taping a partly inflated balloon to the bottom of my foot for relief (this actually wasn’t a bad idea, but I never found a balloon made of sturdy-enough material to avoid popping). Still, I had that numb feeling in the ball of my right foot that came and went, as if I were walking on a bunched-up sock.
So I went to see a podiatrist.
He checked me out, did an ultrasound, pointed to a shape on the scan and said, “There, you have a Morton’s neuroma.”
A what?, I’m thinking.
It turns out that Morton’s neuroma refers to a nerve in the ball of the foot that develops a bunch of scar tissue around it after chronic irritation. A numb feeling in the bottom of the foot is a typical symptom. Depressingly, once you have a neuroma, you always have it. It doesn’t magically vanish if you stay off the foot for a month or two.
I let the podiatrist shoot cortisone into the area (not without some reluctance, I might add). The cortisone did little good. So at this point I had a bad foot and cortisone residue in my joint. Great.
Of course by then I was reading a lot about Morton’s neuromas online. That led me to observe some oddities about my “neuroma.”
* A typical Morton’s neuroma (in fact, one podiatrist online claimed the only true Morton’s neuroma) occurs between the third and fourth toe joints. Mine was between the second and third.
* The same online podiatrist said a Morton’s neuroma is never the result of injury. I was pretty sure my condition was, even if it wasn’t a dramatic, foot-caught-in-the-door type of injury.
* This podiatrist also said a Morton’s neuroma becomes apparent very slowly, over months to years. My symptoms manifested themselves rather quickly.
* He maintained as well that a Morton’s neuroma is never accompanied by swelling. But at one point, a podiatrist observed swelling in my painful foot.
Had this been Me before my ordeal in Saving My Knees, I probably would have just gotten my three recommended cortisone shots, spaced weeks apart, then scheduled surgery to extract the nerve (the only permanent solution) when they failed (which I suspect they would have).
Instead, as a smarter patient who knows doctors can sometimes be wrong, I wound up seeing two other podiatrists.
#2 didn’t think it was a Morton’s neuroma and put me in a boot, which helped a lot. But, as luck would have it, she wasn’t in my PPO network, so I chose not to see her again. Some months later, still hurting, I saw #3. He didn’t think it was a Morton’s neuroma either, and ordered an MRI, which came back clean. The next time I saw him, he greeted me, looked at the test results, and changed his mind, telling me, “You have a neuroma!”
Argh. So I really did have a neuroma?
I began mentally preparing myself for some kind of surgery (I was leaning toward cryosurgery). In the meantime, I decided to try my hardest to beat this thing. I bought wide, well-padded shoes and Crocs to wear. I also bought a roll of Neoprene padding to cut out inserts for my shoes, for even more cushioning. I cut a slit in the side of my right cycling shoe, to give my foot more freedom.
I did more stuff, but I’ll spare you the details, as this post has already gotten really long.
The critical thing you need to know: My foot got better. It feels pretty much normal again.
So my neuroma healed?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I had a neuroma in the first place, or if I did, it wasn’t the primary issue.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll want to come back for Part II in a couple of weeks. I’ll explain what I learned about Morton’s neuroma. And, in doing so, I’ll tell you why Morton’s neuroma is almost certainly one of the most overdiagnosed conditions in podiatry offices everywhere.