Morton's neuroma is a condition that affects one of the nerves that run between the long bones (metatarsals) in the foot. The exact cause is not certain. Symptoms include pain, burning, numbness and tingling between two of the toes of the foot. About a quarter of people just need simple treatments including modification of their footwear. Sometimes surgery is needed for long-standing (chronic) symptoms.
There are many reasons to develop a neuroma. Improper shoe gear is probably the most likely cause. Repetitive activity and excessive pressure on the ball of the foot are common. Heredity and genetic factors may also be involved. In many cases the structure of the foot may predispose the condition. Associated conditions that may cause neuroma include: bunion, hammer toes, ligament laxity, and/or a tight calf muscle. Some patients may have thinning of the fat pad on the ball of the foot, which may result in increased pressure of the nerves. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) without padding may induce pain in the ball of the foot. Neuroma may occur suddenly, or develop over time.
The symptoms of a Morton's neuroma are classic in nature. The patient complains of a burning , tingling, slightly numb feeling (dysesthesias) which radiates out to the toes on either side of the interspace that is involved. For instance, a Morton's neuroma of the third interspace will result in pain between the third and fourth toes, and a neuroma in the second interspace will cause pain between the second and third toes. The symptoms are usually aggravated by wearing shoes, particularly those with high heels. Symptoms are relieved by walking in flat, wide shoes or going barefoot. Rarely will the patient experience pain when sitting or laying down.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor attempts to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot. Other tests or imaging studies may be performed. The best time to see your foot and ankle surgeon is early in the development of symptoms. Early diagnosis of a Morton?s neuroma greatly lessens the need for more invasive treatments and may avoid surgery.
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.
Surgery for neuroma most often involves removing affected nerve in the ball of the foot. An incision is made on the top of the foot and the nerve is carefully removed. Surgeon must remove the nerve far enough back so that the nerve doesn?t continue to become impinged at the ball of the foot. Alternatitvely, another type of surgery involves releasing a tight ligament that encases the nerve. Recovery after Morton?s neuroma (neurectomy) surgery is generally quick. Typically patients are walking on the operated foot in a post-surgical shoe for 2 - 4 weeks, depending on healing. Return to shoes is 2-6 weeks after the surgery. Factors that may prolong healing are age, smoking, poor nutritional status, and some medical problems.