Steven Tyler’s Deformed Feet: Ailments of Aging Rock Stars

In our latest edition of Ailments of Aging Rock Stars, we turn to Steven Tyler‘s feet and Morton’s Neuroma.

On the premier of her new show,  Oprah’s Next Chapter, Oprah featured Aerosmith front-man and American Idol judge Steven Tyler.

Tyler spoke openly about his problems with drug addiction. He claims to have smoked, snorted or shot up more than $20 million worth of drugs over the decades, and he’s been through eight rehabilitation facilities.

In 2008,  Tyler underwent surgery on his feet “to correct long-time foot injuries resulting from his trademark athletic performance onstage.” He had been diagnosed with a condition called Morton’s Neuroma, and was told by his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian McKeon, that it would require  a number of surgeries to repair.

As Steven put it in his book Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir:

What they had to do was to cut some bone and take two knuckles out of my feet. They also took out a ganglion of nerves. The nerves that are in your feet are small as a dime, but mine were the size of a quarter, big and bulbous and traumatized to the point where they had to be taken out…so now there’s just phantom pain there, like a guy who gets his arm cut off and still feels his fingers.

The post-surgical pain was so bad, the he found himself back in rehab. As he told People magazine:

The ‘foot repair’ pain was intense, greater than I’d anticipated. The months of rehabilitative care and the painful strain of physical therapy were traumatic. I really needed a safe environment to recuperate where I could shut off my phone and get back on my feet.

During  interview with Oprah, Tyler actually showed her his foot (left), with which he still has issues.

Looking at it, we can see why!

Tyler also intimated that he took his current gig on American Idol partially as a way to slow down,  get off the road, and rest his chronically painful feet.

So, what is this condition that can hobble a rock star of the magnitude of Steven Tyler?

Morton’s neuroma is an injury to the nerve between the toes, which causes thickening and pain. It commonly affects the nerve that travels between the third and fourth toes.

Morton’s neuroma is more common in women than men.

The exact cause is unknown. However, some experts believe the following may play a role in the development of this condition:

  • Abnormal positioning of toes
  • Flat feet
  • Forefoot problems, including bunions and hammer toes
  • High foot arches
  • Tight shoes and high heels

Symptoms of Morton’s neuroma include:

  • Tingling in the space between the third and fourth toes
  • Toe cramping
  • Sharp, shooting, or burning pains in the ball of your foot (and sometimes toes)
  • Pain that increases when wearing shoes or pressing on the area
  • Pain that gets worse over time

In rare cases, nerve pain occurs in the space between the second and third toes.


Nonsurgical treatment is usually tried first. Your doctor may recommend any of the following:

  • Padding and taping the toe area
  • Shoe inserts
  • Changes to footwear (for example, shoes with wider toe boxes)
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines taken by mouth or injected into the toe area
  • Nerve blocking medicines injected into the toe area
  • Physical therapy

In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the thickened tissue. This can help relieve pain and improve foot function. Numbness after surgery is permanent, but should not be painful. Surgery is successful in about 85% of cases.


Morton’s neuroma can make walking difficult. Persons with this foot condition may also have trouble performing activities that put pressure on the foot, such as pressing the gas pedal of an automobile. It may hurt to wear certain types of shoes, such as high-heels.

Have you ever had a Morton’s neuroma? How was yours treated?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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