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.
In many cases, a neuroma may develop as a result of excessive loading on the front of the foot. Sometimes, a patient?s anatomic alignment in the forefoot contributes to the overload. There may be some cases where the neuroma develops spontaneously, for no obvious reason. However, once the nerve is irritated, pressure from walking, and from the adjacent bony prominences (metatarsal heads), as well as from the intermetatarsal ligament that binds the heads together, all may contribute to persistent pain. Repetitive pressure on the nerve causes localized injury with resulting scarring and fibrosis of the nerve. This leads to symptoms in the distribution of the nerve.
Symptoms typically include pain, often with pins and needles on one side of a toe and the adjacent side of the next toe. Pain is made worse by forefoot weight bearing and can also be reproduced by squeezing the forefoot to further compress the nerve. Pressing in between the third and forth metatarsals for example with a pen can also trigger symptoms.
A doctor can usually identify Morton's neuroma during a physical exam. He or she will squeeze or press on the bottom of your foot or squeeze your toes together to see if it hurts. Your doctor may also order an X-ray of your foot to make sure nothing else is causing the pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most non-operative treatment is usually successful, although it can take a while to figure out what combination of non-operative treatment works best for each individual patient. Non-operative treatment may include the use of comfort shoe wear. The use of a metatarsal pad to decrease the load through the involved area of the plantar forefoot. A period of activity modification to decrease or eliminate activities, which may be exacerbating the patient?s symptoms. For example, avoiding long periods of standing or other activities that result in significant repetitive loading to the forefoot can be very helpful. Wearing high heels should be avoided. Local can help decrease inflammation associated with the nerve. However, this does not necessarily address the underlying loading forces that maybe causing the injury to the nerve in the first place. It has been proposed that an alcohol injection in and around the nerve will cause a controlled death to the nerve and subsequently eliminate symptoms. In theory, this may be helpful. In practice, adequate prospective studies have not demonstrated the benefit of this procedure above and beyond the other standard, non-operative treatments available. In addition there is the concern that the alcohol will cause excessive scarring and damage to other important structures in the area.
If these non-surgical measures do not work, surgery is sometimes needed. Surgery normally involves a small incision (cut) being made on either the top, or the sole, of the foot between the affected toes. Usually, the surgeon will then either create more space around the affected nerve (known as nerve decompression) or will cut out (resect) the affected nerve. If the nerve is resected, there will be some permanent numbness of the skin between the affected toes. This does not usually cause any problems. You will usually have to wear a special shoe for a short time after surgery until the wound has healed and normal footwear can be used again. Surgery is usually successful. However, as with any surgical operation, there is a risk of complications. For example, after this operation a small number of people can develop a wound infection. Another complication may be long-term thickening of the skin (callus formation) on the sole of the foot (known as plantar keratosis). This may require treatment by a specialist in care of the feet (chiropody).