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.
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.
Patients with a Morton’s neuroma typically experience a sharp, shooting or burning pain, usually at the base of the forefoot or toes, which radiates into the two affected toes. Sometimes the pain may also radiate into the foot. The pain is often associated with the presence of pins and needles and numbness.
The diagnosis of a Morton’s neuroma can usually be made by the doctor when the history of pain suggests it and the examination elicits the symptoms. The foot is generally tender when the involved area is compressed and symptoms of pain and sometimes tingling can be elicited when the sides of the foot are squeezed. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound testing can be used to confirm the diagnosis if necessary.
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.
When early treatments fail and the neuroma progresses past the threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary. The procedure, which removes the inflamed and enlarged nerve, can usually be conducted on an outpatient basis, with a recovery time that is often just a few weeks. Your podiatric physician will thoroughly describe the surgical procedures to be used and the results you can expect. Any pain following surgery is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatrist.
Women, particularly those who wear tight shoes, are at greatest risk for Morton?s neuroma. The best way to prevent the condition is to wear shoes with wide toe boxes. Tight, pointed shoes squeeze bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. High heels may worsen the problem by shifting your weight forward. Over time, this combination can cause the nerves to swell and become painful.