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20th December 2018

Putting your best foot forward

‘Tis the season for travelling, enjoying festive celebrations, shopping till we drop and… sore feet.

Our feet are some of the hardest working parts of our body, yet we often take little notice of them until they start hurting. Particularly at this time of year, our tootsies may suddenly decide to let us know they’re not happy.

Sara Wolfin, a psychotherapist from London, knows all about foot pain. “It started around 12 years ago. At the time I was a dental hygienist which involved a lot of sitting, so I used to get in some exercise by walking home from work every day,” she tells This Is MedTech. “During the 20-minute walk, whenever I would stop to cross a road or at a traffic light, I had a burning pain in the ball of my left foot.”

It got to the point where exercising became difficult and Sara had to see a podiatrist, who suspected a Morton’s neuroma – a benign yet painful growth of nerve tissue frequently found between the bones (metatarsals) of the third and fourth toes. An ultrasound scan confirmed the diagnosis. “I had a few cortisone injections, which helped for a while, but the pain would eventually come back,” she says.

“Things I normally enjoyed like running, yoga and dancing became really difficult. Also, I couldn’t walk barefoot anymore, on any surfaces,” Sara comments. “I was given advice to get orthotics and wear flat shoes that weren’t pointed, which I did, but even with all that, it didn’t really get rid of the problem. I put up with it for a while, but the when it got unbearable, I opted for surgery.”

The human foot is an incredibly complex mechanical structure that contains a quarter of the body’s bones, as well as 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated) and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. There are times when you’re walking that the pressure on your feet exceeds your body weight, and when you’re running, it can be three or four times your weight. It’s really no surprise that around one in five adults complain of foot pain at some point in their lives, either due to wear and tear or injury.

After the surgery Sara got on with her life as a busy mum of two small children and was happy to get back to the sport she loved. But then about six years later, “I started to notice the same familiar symptoms – the burning pain and the feeling as if your sock is constantly balled up at the end of your toes – and again, things that I could do previously like running and exercise, even walking, were becoming more difficult.”

Assuming it was the same issue, Sara went straight back to the same foot surgeon, who ordered an ultrasound as well as a computed tomography (CT) scan. “The ultrasound revealed another Morton’s neuroma in the next metatarsal space and the CT scan showed a small sliver of bone that would need to be removed,” says Sara. “A ligament in one of my toes had also become shortened, so that had to be addressed, too.”

She underwent surgery for a second time. “The recovery seemed to be quicker, maybe because my kids were older, and I wasn’t running around after them as much,” she notes. “Since then it’s been fine, though there are a few small niggles. But I’m just getting on with it because I’d much rather be active than not. If you can’t be on your feet, you’re quite limited.”

Morton’s neuroma is just one of many possible reasons for foot pain. For a description of some other common causes, click here. For tips on how to keep your feet healthy, click here.