Morton’s neuroma is a painful condition that affects the ball of your foot, most commonly the area between your third and fourth toes. Morton’s neuroma may feel as if you are standing on a pebble in your shoe or on a fold in your sock. Morton’s neuroma involves a thickening of the tissue around one of the nerves leading to your toes. This can cause a sharp, burning pain in the ball of your foot. Your toes also may sting, burn or feel numb. High-heeled shoes have been linked to the development of Morton’s neuroma. Many people experience relief by switching to lower heeled shoes with wider toe boxes. Sometimes corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
The exact cause of Morton’s neuroma is not known. However, it is thought to develop as a result of long-standing (chronic) stress and irritation of a plantar digital nerve. There are a number of things that are thought to contribute to this. Some thickening (fibrosis) and swelling may then develop around a part of the nerve. This can look like a neuroma and can lead to compression of the nerve. Sometimes, other problems can contribute to the compression of the nerve. These include the growth of a fatty lump (called a lipoma) and also the formation of a fluid-filled sac that can form around a joint (a bursa). Also, inflammation in the joints in the foot next to one of the digital nerves can sometimes cause irritation of the nerve and lead to the symptoms of Morton’s neuroma.
Episodes of pain are intermittent. Patients may experience 2 attacks in a week and then none for a year. Recurrences are variable and tend to become more frequent. Between attacks, no symptoms or physical signs occur. Two neuromas coexist on the same foot about 2-3% of the time. Other diagnoses should be considered when 2 or more areas of tenderness are present.
X-rays of your affected foot will not show a neuroma, as neuromas are made up of soft tissue. X-rays may be helpful, however, in helping rule in osteoarthritis or a stress fracture as the cause of your symptoms. Ultrasonography and MRI are sometimes used to help diagnose neuromas, although they are often ineffective. The clinical diagnosis by a foot care expert with experience treating this health problem is usually the most effective way to diagnose neuromas. Your podiatrist will attempt to duplicate your neuroma symptoms by pressing on the involved nerve at various points, and he or she may try to cause a clicking of your nerve that indicates nerve enlargement.
Non Surgical Treatment
The best results are achieved with massage techniques that encourage spreading and mobilizing the metatarsal heads. Metatarsal spreading is one technique that can help reduce the detrimental effects of nerve compression. To perform this technique, pull the metatarsal heads (not just the toes) apart and hold them in this position to help stretch the intrinsic foot muscles and other soft-tissues. When this technique is combined with the use of toe spacers, it will be even more effective.
If symptoms do not respond to any of the above measures then surgery may be suggested. This involves a short 30 minute operation to either remove tissue to take pressure off the nerve or to remove the nerve causing the pain. The surgery can be done as a day case but it will be two or three weeks before you can be fully active on your feet. There may be some lingering numbness afterwards if the nerve is removed. But surgery is successful in around 80% of cases. There is a small risk of complications such as infection and thickening of the skin on the soles of the feet.
While Morton?s Neuroma has been an ongoing topic of clinical investigation, the condition is in some cases difficult to either treat or prevent. Experimental efforts involving the injection of muscle or bone with chemicals such as alcohol, as well as suturing, and covering affected areas with silicone caps have been attempted, with varying success.