Morton?s neuroma is inflammation, thickening, or enlargement of the nerve between the bones of the toes (metatarsal bones). The condition is also called intermetatarsal neuroma. The thickening is usually found between bones of the third and fourth toes of the foot, but sometimes it may develop between the second and third toes. It occurs when the medial plantar nerve near the bones of those toes becomes compressed or irritated, possibly because the metatarsal bones press against the nerve in the narrow gap between the toes. If left untreated, Morton?s neuroma can cause a sharp, burning, or shooting pain that often gets worse over time. The pain becomes worse when a person walks or stands on the ball of the foot. Sometimes the pain reaches the toes next to the neuroma and a sensation of tingling or numbness is felt.
There are a number of common causes for Morton?s Neuroma, (though the condition can arise spontaneously for reasons still unknown). The Neuroma often occurs in response to irritation, pressure or traumatic injury to one of the digital nerves leading to the toes. A thickening of nerve tissue results as part of the body?s response to the irritation or injury. Abnormal foot movement used to compensate for bunions, hammertoes, flatfeet and other conditions can lead to irritation and development of Morton?s Neuroma. Pronation of the foot may cause the heads of the metatarsal bones to rotate slightly, thereby pinching the nerve running between the metatarsal heads. Chronic pressure or pinching causes the nerve sheath to enlarge, becoming increasingly squeezed, producing worsening pain over time, if not addressed. Morton?s Neuroma can be exacerbated when tight shoes providing little room for the forefoot are worn. Activities which over-pronate the foot (such as walking barefoot in sand) may increase the pain associated with Morton?s Neuroma, as will any high-impact activity, such as jogging.
Many patients describe the sensation as a burning pain in the ball of the foot that often radiates to the toes. Initially, the pain may become much more apparent when the person wears tight, narrow or high-heeled shoes, or engages in activities which place pressure on the foot. Eventually, symptoms may be continuous and last for days, and even weeks. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans have revealed Morton's neuroma lesions in patients who had no symptoms at all. Symptoms can become so disrupting that many affected individuals become anxious about walking, or even placing their foot on the ground.
Plain x-rays of the foot may demonstrate that one or more of the metatarsals are long (Figure #5). Not uncommonly, the second and/or third metatarsal may be long relative to the third or fourth. This can create a situation where excessive load is occurring in and around the vicinity of the interdigital nerve.
Non Surgical Treatment
Simple treatments may be all that are needed for some people with a Morton's neuroma. They include the following. Footwear adjustments including avoidance of high-heeled and narrow shoes and having special orthotic pads and devices fitted into your shoes. Calf-stretching exercises may also be taught to help relieve the pressure on your foot. Steroid or local anaesthetic injections (or a combination of both) into the affected area of the foot may be needed if the simple footwear changes do not fully relieve symptoms. However, the footwear modification measures should still be continued. Sclerosant injections involve the injection of alcohol and local anaesthetic into the affected nerve under the guidance of an ultrasound scan. Some studies have shown this to be as effective as surgery.
The ultimate success of a Morton?s neuroma treated surgically is somewhat unclear. This is likely due to the idea that in most instances a ?Morton?s neuroma? is actually more than just an isolated nerve problem but rather consitutes a metatarsalgia where other structures (such a as the MTP joints) are also problematic, not just the nerve. Therefore, addressing the nerve as well as the other components of a metatarsalgia may offer a better chance of surgical success. However, like many conditions in foot and ankle, it is ideal if this condition can be managed without surgery.
Although the exact causes of neuromas are not completely known, the following preventive steps may help. Make sure your exercise shoes have enough room in the front part of the shoe and that your toes are not excessively compressed. Wear shoes with adequate padding in the ball of the foot. Avoid prolonged time in shoes with a narrow toe box or excessive heel height (greater than two inches).