Morton?s Neuroma is a common foot condition characterized by pain and swelling in the ball of the foot, between the third and fourth toes. It?s caused by bones in your feet squeezing a nerve. Symptoms include a sharp, burning pain and possibly separation between the affected toes.
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.
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
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 maybe 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 corticosteroid injections 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 from the nerve. 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 death of other important structures in the area.
Majority of publications including peer review journal articles, surgical technique description and textbooks promote surgical excision as a gold standard treatment. Surgical excision is described as the most definitive mode of treatment for symptomatic Morton?s neuroma with reported success rates varying between 79% and 93%. Various surgical techniques are described, essentially categorised as dorsal versus plantar incision approaches. Beyond this the commonest technical variation described as influencing the outcome of surgery involves burying and anchoring transacted nerve into soft tissue such as muscle.
How can Morton?s neuroma be prevented? Do not wear tight shoes or high-heeled shoes for prolonged periods. Do wear shoes with a wide toe box so that your toes are not squeezed or cramped. Do wear athletic footwear with enough padding to cushion the balls of the feet when exercising or participating in sports.