Patients with Morton?s neuroma present with pain in the forefoot, particularly in the ?ball? of the foot. However, not all pain in the forefoot is a Morton?s neuroma. In fact, most chronic pain in the forefoot is NOT the result of a Morton?s neuroma, but rather is from metatarsalgia - inflammation (synovitis) of the ?toe/foot? joints. The symptoms from Morton?s neuroma are due to irritation to the small digital nerves, as they pass across the sole of the foot and into the toes. Therefore, with a true Morton?s neuroma, it is not uncommon to have nerve-type symptoms, which can include numbness or a burning sensation extending into the toes. There are several interdigital nerves in the forefoot. The most common nerve to develop into a neuroma is between the 3rd and 4th toes. With a true neuroma, the pain should be isolated to just one or two toes.
Although the exact cause for this condition is unclear, a number of factors can contribute to the formation of a neuroma. Biomechanical deformities, such as a high-arched foot or a flat foot, can lead to the formation of a neuroma. These foot types bring on instability around the toe joints, leading to the development of the condition. Trauma can cause damage to the nerve, resulting in inflammation or swelling of the nerve. Improper footwear that causes the toes to be squeezed together is problematic. Avoid high-heeled shoes higher than two inches. Shoes at this height can increase pressure on the forefoot area. Repeated stress, common to many occupations, can create or aggravate a neuroma.
A Morton's neuroma causes a "burning" sharp pain and numbness on the bottom of the foot in the involved area, and this pain and numbness can radiate to the nearby toes. The pain is usually increased by walking or when the ball of the foot is squeezed together and decreased with massaging. It may force a person to stop walking or to limp from the pain.
An MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) is used to ensure that the compression is not caused by a tumor in the foot. An MRI also determines the size of the neuroma and whether the syndrome should be treated conservatively or aggressively. If surgery is indicated, the podiatrist can determine how much of the nerve must be resected. This is important, because different surgical techniques can be used, depending on the size and the position of the neuroma. Because MRIs are expensive, some insurance companies are reluctant to pay for them. If the podiatrist believes an MRI is necessary, he or she can persuade the insurance company to pay for it by presenting data to support the recommendation.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for Morton?s Neuroma may include non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling. These may consist of standard analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Massaging the painful region three times daily with ice. Change of footwear. Avoid tight shoes, high heels or any footwear that seems to irritate the condition. Low heeled shoes with softer soles are preferable. Arch supports and foot pads to help reduce pressure on the nerve. In some cases, a physician may prescribe a customized shoe insert, molded to fit the contours of the patient?s foot. Reducing activities causing stress to the foot, including jogging, dancing, aerobic activity or any high impact movements of the foot. Injections of a corticosteroid medication to reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerve and reduce pain. Occasionally other substances may be injected in order to ?ablate? the Neuroma. (The overuse of injected steroids is to be avoided however, as side effects, including weight gain and high blood pressure can result.)
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.