Morton?s neuroma occurs as the nerve passes under the ligament connecting the toe bones (metatarsals) in the forefoot. Morton?s neuroma most frequently develops between the third and fourth toes, usually in response to irritation, trauma or excessive pressure. The incidence of Morton?s neuroma is 8 to 10 times greater in women than in men.
Morton's neuroma develops for several reasons. The primary reason is wearing narrow toe-box shoes, which compress the metatarsal heads. Certain anatomical factors also make nerve compression more likely with the narrow toe box shoes. In some people fibers, the medial and lateral plantar nerves converge close to the heads of the third and fourth metatarsals. This junction creates a larger nerve structure between the metatarsal heads making it more vulnerable to compression.
If you have a Morton's neuroma, you will probably have one or more of these symptoms. Tingling, burning, or numbness. A feeling that something is inside the ball of the foot, or your sock is bunched up. Pain that is relieved by removing your shoes. A Morton's Neuroma often develops gradually. At first the symptoms may occur only occasionally, when wearing narrower shoes or performing certain activities. The symptoms may go away temporarily by massaging the foot or by avoiding aggravating shoes or activities. Over time the symptoms progressively worsen and may persist for several days or weeks. The symptoms become more intense as the neuroma enlarges and the temporary changes in the nerve become permanent.
Morton?s neuroma can be identified during a physical exam, after pressing on the bottom of the foot. This maneuver usually reproduces the patient?s pain. MRI and ultrasound are imaging studiesthat can demonstrate the presence of the neuroma. An x-ray may also be ordered to make sure no other issues exist in the foot. A local anesthetic injection along the neuroma may temporarily abolish the pain, and help confirm the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most important factor in the treatment of Morton's neuroma is changing footwear. Sometimes a cushioned dome pad can be worn inside the shoe and this helps spread the metatarsal heads and decrease pressure on the nerve. There are other products that can be worn between the toes with certain types of shoes or when the client is barefoot. These toe spacers will help reverse biomechanical patterns that aggravate the nerve compression. Massage can be helpful, but should not be performed with deep pressure between the metatarsal heads. Additional pressure in this region can aggravate the nerve compression and prolong the pathology.
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.