Morton’s neuroma is named after Dr Morton who first described this condition in 1876. It is sometimes called Morton’s metatarsalgia or interdigital neuroma. It is a condition that affects one of the common plantar digital nerves that run between the long bones (metatarsals) in the foot. It most commonly affects the nerve between the third and fourth metatarsal bones, causing pain and numbness in the third and fourth toes. It can also affect the nerve between the second and third metatarsal bones, causing symptoms in the second and third toes. Morton’s neuroma rarely affects the nerve between the first and second, or between the fourth and fifth, metatarsal bones. It tends to affect only one foot. It is rare to get two neuromas at the same time in the same foot.
Occupational hazards. Individuals whose jobs place undue stress on their forefeet (with or without wearing improper footwear) are among those who complain of neuromas. Podiatric physicians report that individuals who work on ladders, or who perform activities on their knees (such as doing landscaping, carpeting, flooring, or other work on the ground) are at risk for this problem, too, since these activities cause stress to the nerve near the ball of the foot. Those who engage in high-impact activities that bring repetitive trauma to the foot (running, aerobics, etc.) have a better than average chance of developing a neuroma at the site of a previous injury. To put it more simply, if you have sustained a previous injury to your foot (a sprain, stress fracture, etc.), that area of your foot will be more prone to neuroma development than an area that has not been injured. However, sports injuries aren?t automatically a ticket to neuromas. Trauma caused by other forms of injury to the foot (dropping heavy objects, for example) can also cause a neuroma to develop at the site of the previous injury. Much though we hate to say it, sometimes neuromas just develop and nobody knows why. The patient doesn?t have a previous injury, is wearing properly fitted shoes, and doesn?t stress his/her feet with any specific activity but the neuroma develops anyway. It is important to remember that some of the factors listed above can work alone, or in combination with each other, to contribute to the formation of neuroma.
While the condition may at first only appear during heavy repetitive stress or when wearing particular shoes which aggravate the foot, the Neuroma can become increasingly inflamed and produce more constant discomfort, lasting days or weeks. Runners may experience pain pushing off from starting blocks. Tight or narrow shoes as well as high heels likewise aggravate the Neuroma. A checklist of symptoms includes burning pain, occasionally numbness in the ball of the foot. Radiating pain from the ball of the foot to the toes. Intensifying pain during activity and when wearing shoes. Occasional numbness, discomfort, tingling or ?electrical shock sensation? in the toes. Pain between the third and fourth toes, often occurring from the outer side of one toe to the inner side of the adjoining toe. Pain upon leaving the starting blocks in running sports.
During the exam, your doctor will press on your foot to feel for a mass or tender spot. There may also be a feeling of “clicking” between the bones of your foot. Some imaging tests are more useful than others in the diagnosis of Morton’s neuroma. Your doctor is likely to order X-rays of your foot, to rule out other causes of your pain such as a stress fracture. Ultrasound. This technology uses sound waves to create real-time images of internal structures. Ultrasound is particularly good at revealing soft tissue abnormalities, such as neuromas. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a strong magnetic field, an MRI also is good at visualizing soft tissues. But it’s an expensive test and often indicates neuromas in people who have no symptoms.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for Morton?s neuroma will depend on how long you’ve had the condition and its severity. Simple non-surgical treatments are effective for some people. Others may need surgery. If Morton’s neuroma is diagnosed early, treatment will aim to reduce the pressure on the affected nerve. This is usually the nerve between the third and fourth toe bones (metatarsals). Your GP or podiatrist (foot specialist) may recommend changing the type of shoes you usually wear, shoes with a wider toe area may help ease the pressure on the nerve in your foot. Using orthotic devices, such as a support for the arch of your foot to help relieve the pressure on the nerve. Anti-inflammatory painkillers or a course of steroid injections into the affected area of your foot may help ease the pain and inflammation. Alcohol and local anaesthetic is injected into your foot using ultrasound for guidance, studies have shown that this type of treatment is effective. Resting your foot and massaging your toes may also help to relieve the pain. You can make an ice pack by freezing a small bottle of water and rolling it over the affected area.
Surgery for Morton’s neuroma is usually a treatment of last resort. It may be recommended if you have severe pain in your foot or if non-surgical treatments haven’t worked. Surgery is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, on an outpatient basis, which means you won’t need to stay in hospital overnight. The operation can take up to 30 minutes. The surgeon will make a small incision, either on the top of your foot or on the sole. They may try to increase the space around the nerve (nerve decompression) by removing some of the surrounding tissue, or they may remove the nerve completely (nerve resection). If the nerve is removed, the area between your toes may be permanently numb. After the procedure you’ll need to wear a special protective shoe until the affected area has healed sufficiently to wear normal footwear. It can take up to four weeks to make a full recovery. Most people (about 75%) who have surgery to treat Morton’s neuroma have positive results and their painful symptoms are relieved.
The best way to prevent a neuroma is by avoiding the things that cause them. Review your risk factors. If relatives have had similar problems, or if you know that you pronate or have any problem with the mechanics of your foot, talk with a podiatric physician about the correct types of shoes and/or orthoses for you. If you are not sure whether you have such a problem, the podiatric professional can analyze your foot, your stride and the wear pattern of your shoes, and give you an honest evaluation. Remember, though, that sometimes neuromas, like other conditions, can develop for no discernible reason. With this in mind, be good to your feet, and be aware of any changes or problems. Don?t wait to report them.