Morton's neuroma is the common name given to the nerve irritation that is found in the ball of the foot that may or may not be accompanied by an inter-metatarsal bursae (a bursa-neuromal complex). It is often associated with inflammation or degeneration and often occurs with constant pressure or irritation of the nerve from the surrounding bony structures or local bursas (fluid filled sacs). Morton's Neuroma can cause symptoms such as a sharp pain, burning even a lack of feeling in the ball of the foot and associated toes.
Morton's Neuroma is a caused by pressure, abnormal function/motion or an imbalance in the structure of the foot such as flat feet, that causes an abnormal pressure on the structures and the nerves in the ball of the foot. It most commonly affects the nerve that goes to the 2nd 3rd or 4th toes. The squeezing of the nerve from abnormal motion leads to a protective thickening of the sheath that protects the nerve. Symptoms of Morton's Neuroma often occur during or after activities that cause a sidewards squeezing of the ball of the foot or from pressure such as walking, standing, or playing sport. Since squeezing is a common cause of the condition, shoes such as pointed toes or high heels can often lead to a neuroma. Shoes that are constricting, even tight sneakers, can pinch the nerve between the toes, causing inflammation and pain.
The most common presenting complaints include pain and dysesthesias in the forefoot and corresponding toes adjacent to the neuroma. Pain is described as sharp and burning, and it may be associated with cramping. Numbness often is observed in the toes adjacent to the neuroma and seems to occur along with episodes of pain. Pain typically is intermittent, as episodes often occur for minutes to hours at a time and have long intervals (ie, weeks to months) between a single or small group of multiple attacks. Some patients describe the sensation as "walking on a marble." Massage of the affected area offers significant relief. Narrow tight high-heeled shoes aggravate the symptoms. Night pain is reported but is rare.
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
Treatment for Morton?s neuroma will depend on how long you've had the condition and its severity. Simple non-surgical treatments are effective for some people. Others may need surgery. If Morton's neuroma is diagnosed early, treatment will aim to reduce the pressure on the affected nerve. This is usually the nerve between the third and fourth toe bones (metatarsals). Your GP or podiatrist (foot specialist) may recommend changing the type of shoes you usually wear, shoes with a wider toe area may help ease the pressure on the nerve in your foot. Using orthotic devices, such as a support for the arch of your foot to help relieve the pressure on the nerve. Anti-inflammatory painkillers or a course of steroid injections into the affected area of your foot may help ease the pain and inflammation. Alcohol and local anaesthetic is injected into your foot using ultrasound for guidance, studies have shown that this type of treatment is effective. Resting your foot and massaging your toes may also help to relieve the pain. You can make an ice pack by freezing a small bottle of water and rolling it over the affected area.
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.
The best way to prevent a neuroma is by avoiding the things that cause them. Review your risk factors. If relatives have had similar problems, or if you know that you pronate or have any problem with the mechanics of your foot, talk with a podiatric physician about the correct types of shoes and/or orthoses for you. If you are not sure whether you have such a problem, the podiatric professional can analyze your foot, your stride and the wear pattern of your shoes, and give you an honest evaluation. Remember, though, that sometimes neuromas, like other conditions, can develop for no discernible reason. With this in mind, be good to your feet, and be aware of any changes or problems. Don?t wait to report them.