Morton’s neuroma is a condition that affects one of the nerves between the toes. It’s also known as Morton’s metatarsalgia or interdigital neuroma. In Morton’s neuroma, fibrous tissue develops around the nerve, which becomes irritated and compressed. This causes severe pain on the ball of the foot and at the base of the toes. Morton’s neuroma can occur on one foot or both feet. It usually affects the nerve between the third and fourth toes, but sometimes the second and third toes are affected.
Although in many areas of medicine, it?s easy to pinpoint the exact source of a problem (the way a specific germ causes a certain illness with recognizable symptoms), neuromas are harder to categorize. While there isn?t really one exact cause, podiatric physicians tend to agree that a neuroma can occur in response to the irritation of a nerve by one or more factors. Abnormality in foot function or foot mechanics: In other words, a foot that doesn?t move the way science thinks it should. In general, this means a pronated foot (one with an excessive rolling motion when the patient is walking, running or doing any kind of activity), because it causes excessive strain on the nerve. If you are not certain whether or not this is a problem for you, ask your podiatric physician, who will be able to examine your feet, as well as the wear pattern on your shoe, and give you an answer. Foot mechanics, and problems with them, tend to run in families, so if you know that a relative has had foot pain similar to yours, be sure to mention it.
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.
Your health care provider can usually diagnose this problem by examining your foot. A foot x-ray may be done to rule out bone problems. MRI or ultrasound can successfully diagnose the condition. Nerve testing (electromyography) cannot diagnose Morton neuroma. But it may be used to rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms. Blood tests may be done to check for inflammation-related conditions, including certain forms of arthritis.
Non Surgical Treatment
If symptoms are severe or persistent and self-help measures did not help, the doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections, a steroid medication that reduces inflammation and pain is injected into the area of the neuroma. Only a limited number of injections are advised, otherwise the risk of undesirable side effects increases, including hypertension (high blood pressure) and weight gain. Alcohol sclerosing injections, studies have shown that alcohol injections reduce the size of Morton’s neuromas as well as alleviating pain. This is a fairly new therapy and may not be available everywhere. The doctor injects alcohol in the area of the neuroma to help sclerose (harden) the nerve and relieve pain. Injections are typically administered every 7 to 10 days. For maximum relief 4 to 7 injections are usually needed.
When medications or other treatments do not work, podiatric surgery may be required. The most common surgical procedure for treating Morton?s neuroma is a neurectomy, in which part of the nerve tissue is removed. Although this procedure effectively removes the original neuroma, sometimes scar tissue known as a stump neuroma forms at the site of the incision. This may result in tingling, numbness, or pain following surgery. Surgery is effective in relieving or reducing symptoms for Morton?s neuroma patients in about 75% to 85% of all cases. Occasionally, minimally invasive radio frequency ablation is also used to treat Morton’s neuroma.