Morton’s Neuroma is the most common neuroma in the foot. It occurs in the forefoot area (the ball of the foot) at the base of the third and fourth toes. It is sometimes referred to as an intermetatarsal neuroma. “Intermetatarsal” describes its location in the ball of the foot between the metatarsal bones (the bones extending from the toes to the midfoot). A neuroma is a thickening, or enlargement, of the nerve as a result of compression or irritation of the nerve. Compression and irritation creates swelling of the nerve, which can eventually lead to permanent nerve damage.
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.
Neuroma pain is classically described as a burning pain in the forefoot. It can also be felt as an aching or shooting pain in the forefoot. Patients with this problem frequently say they feel like they want to take off their shoes and rub their foot. This pain may occur in the middle of a run or at the end of a long run. If your shoes are quite tight or the neuroma is very large, the pain may be present even when walking. Occasionally a sensation of numbness is felt in addition to the pain or even before the pain appears.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose a Morton’s neuroma. Investigations such as an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or bone scan may sometimes be used to assist with diagnosis, assess the severity of the injury and rule out other conditions.
Non Surgical Treatment
Relief of symptoms can often start by having a good pair of well fitting shoes fitted to your feet ensuring that the shoes don’t squeeze your foot together. Once footwear is addressed patients may require a small pre-metatarsal pad to be positioned onto the insole of the shoe to help lift and separate the bones in the forefoot to alleviate the pressure on the nerve. If the patients foot structure and mechanics is found to be a contributing cause, a custom made orthotic is usually the most convenient and effective way to manage the problem. Sometimes an injection of local anaesthetic and steroid is recommended to assist in settling acute symptoms.
Operative treatment of Morton?s neuroma should be entertained only after failure of nonoperative management. Standard operative treatment involves identifying the nerve and cutting (resecting) it proximal to the point where it is irritate/injured. This is usually done through an incision on the top (dorsal) aspect of the foot, although in rare instances, an incision on the sole (plantar) aspect of the foot maybe used. An incision on the sole of the foot works very well, unless an excessive scar forms in which case it can be problematic. Some physicians will attempt to treat Morton?s neuroma by releasing the intermetatarsal ligament and freeing the nerve of local scar tissue. This may also be beneficial.