Morton?s neuroma is inflammation, thickening, or enlargement of the nerve between the bones of the toes (metatarsal bones). The condition is also called intermetatarsal neuroma. The thickening is usually found between bones of the third and fourth toes of the foot, but sometimes it may develop between the second and third toes. It occurs when the medial plantar nerve near the bones of those toes becomes compressed or irritated, possibly because the metatarsal bones press against the nerve in the narrow gap between the toes. If left untreated, Morton?s neuroma can cause a sharp, burning, or shooting pain that often gets worse over time. The pain becomes worse when a person walks or stands on the ball of the foot. Sometimes the pain reaches the toes next to the neuroma and a sensation of tingling or numbness is felt.
A Morton?s Neuroma are a result of complex biomechanical changes that occur in your feet. There are a number of theories as to the exact cause of the scarring and thickening, but it basically boils down to overload of the tissue structure. The body lays down scar tissue to try to protect the overloaded structure. Tight-fitting shoes may exacerbate a Morton?s Neuroma. Shoes such as high heels and shoes with tight toe boxes (eg womens fashion shoes and cowboy boots) are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot bed and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to bear your weight. The angle of the toe box then squeezes your toes together. Footwear is not the only cause of a Morton?s Neuroma. Injuries to the foot can also be a factor in developing the condition by changing your foot biomechanics. Poor foot arch control leading to flat feet or foot overpronation does make you biomechanically susceptible to a neuroma.
People with Morton's neuroma usually complain of pain that can start in the ball of the foot and shoot into the affected toes. However, some people just have toe pain. There may also be burning and tingling of the toes. The symptoms are usually felt up the sides of the space between two toes. For example, if the nerve between the third and fourth long bones (metatarsals) of the right foot is affected, the symptoms will usually be felt up the right-hand side of the fourth toe and up the left-hand side of the third toe. Some people describe the pain that they feel as being like walking on a stone or a marble. Symptoms can be made worse if you wear high-heeled shoes. The pain is relieved by taking your shoe off, resting your foot and massaging the area. You may also experience some numbness between the affected toes. Your affected toes may also appear to be spread apart, which doctors refer to as the 'V sign'. The symptoms can vary and may come and go over a number of years. For example, some people may experience two attacks of pain in a week and then nothing for a year. Others may have regular and persistent (chronic) pain.
The physician will make the diagnosis of Morton's neuroma based upon the patient's symptoms as described above in an interview, or history, and a physical examination. The physical examination will reveal exceptional tenderness in the involved interspace when the nerve area is pressed on the bottom of the foot. As the interspace is palpated, and pressure is applied from the top to the bottom of the foot, a click can sometimes be felt which reproduces the patient's pain. This is known as a Mulder's sign. Because of inconsistent results, imaging studies such as MRI or ultrasound scanning are not useful diagnostic tools for Morton's neuroma. Thus the physician must rely exclusively on the patient's history and physical examination in order to make a diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
The best results are achieved with massage techniques that encourage spreading and mobilizing the metatarsal heads. Metatarsal spreading is one technique that can help reduce the detrimental effects of nerve compression. To perform this technique, pull the metatarsal heads (not just the toes) apart and hold them in this position to help stretch the intrinsic foot muscles and other soft-tissues. When this technique is combined with the use of toe spacers, it will be even more effective.
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.
While Morton?s Neuroma has been an ongoing topic of clinical investigation, the condition is in some cases difficult to either treat or prevent. Experimental efforts involving the injection of muscle or bone with chemicals such as alcohol, as well as suturing, and covering affected areas with silicone caps have been attempted, with varying success.