A Morton’s neuroma is a benign (noncancerous) swelling along a nerve in the foot that carries sensations from the toes. The reason the nerve starts to swell is unknown. But once swelling begins, the nearby bones and ligaments put pressure on the nerve, causing more irritation and inflammation. This produces burning pain, numbness, tingling and other abnormal sensations in the toes. A Morton’s neuroma also is called an interdigital neuroma, intermetatarsal neuroma or a forefoot neuroma.
The exact cause of Morton?s neuroma is not known, but the choice of footwear seems be a factor. Wearing high heels (shoes with heels over 2 inches) can put extra pressure on the balls of the feet. Wearing tight or pointed toed shoes may squeeze the toes together or otherwise constrict their movement. For that reason, women are about 8 to 10 times more likely to develop Morton?s neuroma compared with men. People who are born with flat feet, high arches, or an abnormal position of the toes are more prone to developing Morton?s neuroma. This may be due to instability around the toe joints. Certain conditions that develop over time, such as bunions or hammer toes, are also associated with Morton?s neuroma. Some sports that involve running, including tennis and other racquet sports, can also increase the chance of developing Morton?s neuroma due to trauma or injury to the foot.
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.
In some cases your doctor will be able to feel the Morton’s as a swelling in the middle of your foot. However they may also suggest an X-ray or a blood test – this is normally to rule our other causes of the pain such as arthritis. The most accurate way to diagnose Morton?s itself is with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.
Non Surgical Treatment
In most cases, initial treatment for this condition consists of padding and taping to disperse weight away from the neuroma. If the patient has flatfeet, an arch support is incorporated into footwear. The patient is instructed to wear shoes with wide toe boxes and avoid shoes with high heels. An injection of local anesthetic to relieve pain and a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation may be administered. The patient is advised to return in a week or 2 to monitor progress. If the pain has been relieved, the neuroma is probably small and caused by the structure of the patient’s foot and the type of shoes the patient wears. It can be relieved by a custom-fitted orthotic that helps maintain the foot in a better position. Another type of therapy that may be used is alcohol sclerosing injections. In this treatment, the doctor injects a small amount of alcohol in the area of the neuroma area to help harden (sclerose) the nerve and relieve the pain. Injections are given every 7-10 days and, in many cases, 4-7 injections are needed for maximum relief. Please ask your physician for more information regarding this type of treatment.
For severe or persistent pain, you may need surgery to remove the neuroma. Once the nerve is gone, you permanently lose feeling in the affected area. One alternative to surgery is to undergo neurolysis injections. These use chemical agents to block pain signals. Another alternative is to take a prescription pain reliever that alleviates nerve pain.