Morton's neuroma is a condition that affects one of the nerves that run between the long bones (metatarsals) in the foot. The exact cause is not certain. Symptoms include pain, burning, numbness and tingling between two of the toes of the foot. About a quarter of people just need simple treatments including modification of their footwear. Sometimes surgery is needed for long-standing (chronic) symptoms.
A Morton?s Neuroma are a result of complex biomechanical changes that occur in your feet. There are a number of theories as to the exact cause of the scarring and thickening, but it basically boils down to overload of the tissue structure. The body lays down scar tissue to try to protect the overloaded structure. Tight-fitting shoes may exacerbate a Morton?s Neuroma. Shoes such as high heels and shoes with tight toe boxes (eg womens fashion shoes and cowboy boots) are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot bed and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to bear your weight. The angle of the toe box then squeezes your toes together. Footwear is not the only cause of a Morton?s Neuroma. Injuries to the foot can also be a factor in developing the condition by changing your foot biomechanics. Poor foot arch control leading to flat feet or foot overpronation does make you biomechanically susceptible to a neuroma.
The most common presenting complaints include pain and dysesthesias in the forefoot and corresponding toes adjacent to the neuroma. Pain is described as sharp and burning, and it may be associated with cramping. Numbness often is observed in the toes adjacent to the neuroma and seems to occur along with episodes of pain. Pain typically is intermittent, as episodes often occur for minutes to hours at a time and have long intervals (ie, weeks to months) between a single or small group of multiple attacks. Some patients describe the sensation as "walking on a marble." Massage of the affected area offers significant relief. Narrow tight high-heeled shoes aggravate the symptoms. Night pain is reported but is rare.
The physician will make the diagnosis of Morton's neuroma based upon the patient's symptoms as described above in an interview, or history, and a physical examination. The physical examination will reveal exceptional tenderness in the involved interspace when the nerve area is pressed on the bottom of the foot. As the interspace is palpated, and pressure is applied from the top to the bottom of the foot, a click can sometimes be felt which reproduces the patient's pain. This is known as a Mulder's sign. Because of inconsistent results, imaging studies such as MRI or ultrasound scanning are not useful diagnostic tools for Morton's neuroma. Thus the physician must rely exclusively on the patient's history and physical examination in order to make a diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
The first step in treating Morton's Neuroma is to select proper footwear. Footwear with a high and wide toe box (toe area) is ideal for treating and relieving the pain. The next step in treatment is to use an orthotic designed with a metatarsal pad. This pad is located behind the ball-of-the-foot to unload pressure, and relieve the pain caused by the neuroma.
If problem persists, consult your foot doctor.
About one person in four will not require any surgery for Morton's neuroma and their symptoms can be controlled with footwear modification and steroid/local anaesthetic injections. Of those who choose to have surgery, about three out of four will have good results with relief of their symptoms. Recurrent or persisting (chronic) symptoms can occur after surgery. Sometimes, decompression of the nerve may have been incomplete or the nerve may just remain 'irritable'. In those who have had cutting out (resection) of the nerve (neurectomy), a recurrent or 'stump' neuroma may develop in any nerve tissue that was left behind. This can sometimes be more painful than the original condition.
Women, particularly those who wear tight shoes, are at greatest risk for Morton?s neuroma. The best way to prevent the condition is to wear shoes with wide toe boxes. Tight, pointed shoes squeeze bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. High heels may worsen the problem by shifting your weight forward. Over time, this combination can cause the nerves to swell and become painful.