This is a painful condition affecting a small nerve in the foot. It occurs when the five long bones that run the length of the foot get pushed together, pinching the nerve in between. This friction on the nerve causes it to thicken and inflame causing pain. The condition gets its name from an American surgeon, George Morton.
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.
Morton?s neuroma is a progressive condition which means the symptoms typically get worse over time. Initially people often complain of a tingling or numbness at the base of their toes, typically in the space between the third and fourth toes, or, less commonly , between the second and third toes, which feels a bit like pins and needles. Over time the pain progresses and can feel like a stabbing or burning sensation in the ball of the foot under the toes. Some describe it as feeling as if they are standing on a stone. Normally the pain will get worse when you wear tight fitting shoes. Doing exercise that impacts on the foot such as jogging can also make the symptoms worse. The extent of the pain varies from person to person but in some cases it can be so intense that every step can feel acutely painful.
An MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) is used to ensure that the compression is not caused by a tumor in the foot. An MRI also determines the size of the neuroma and whether the syndrome should be treated conservatively or aggressively. If surgery is indicated, the podiatrist can determine how much of the nerve must be resected. This is important, because different surgical techniques can be used, depending on the size and the position of the neuroma. Because MRIs are expensive, some insurance companies are reluctant to pay for them. If the podiatrist believes an MRI is necessary, he or she can persuade the insurance company to pay for it by presenting data to support the recommendation.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for Morton’s neuroma may depend on several factors, including the severity of symptoms and how long they have been present. The earlier on the condition is diagnosed, the less likely surgery is required. Doctors will usually recommend self-help measures first. These may include resting the foot, massaging the foot and affected toes. Using an ice pack on the affected area (skin should not be directly exposed to ice, the ice should be in a container or wrapped in something) Changing footwear, wearing wide-toed shoes, or flat (non high-heeled) shoes. Trying arch supports (orthotic devices). A type of padding that supports the arch of the foot, removing pressure from the nerve. The doctor may recommend a custom-made, individually designed shoe-insert, molded to fit the contours of the patient’s foot. There are several OTC (over the counter, non-prescription) metatarsal pads or bars available which can be placed over the neuroma. Taking over-the-counter, non-prescription painkilling medications. Modifying activities, avoiding activities which put repetitive pressure on the neuroma until the condition improves. Bodyweight management,if the patient is obese the doctor may advise him/her to lose weight. A significant number of obese patients with foot problems, such as flat feet, who successfully lose weight experience considerable improvement of symptoms.
The above measures are often sufficient to resolve Morton?s Neuroma. Should the condition persist or worsen despite these efforts, surgery may be recommended to remove the Neuroma. The surgery requires only a short recovery period, though permanent numbness in the affected toes can result, so such surgery is generally used as a last resort.
Ensuring that shoes are well fitted, low-heeled and with a wide toe area may help to prevent Morton’s neuroma.