What Causes Mortons NeuromaOverview
Morton neuroma (interdigital neuroma), first described in 1876, is a perineural fibrosis and nerve degeneration of the common digital nerve. Morton neuroma, or Morton's neuroma, is not a true neuroma, although it results in neuropathic pain in the distribution of the interdigital nerve secondary to repetitive irritation of the nerve. The most frequent location is between the third and fourth metatarsals (third webspace). Other, less common locations are between the second and third metatarsals (second webspace) and, rarely, between the first and second (first webspace) or fourth and fifth (fourth webspace) metatarsals.
Some experts believe that other foot conditions may also be associated with Morton's neuroma. This is because other conditions may cause the metatarsal bones to rub against the nerve in your foot. Foot problems that may increase your risk of developing Morton's neuroma include abnormally positioned toes, high arches, where the arch or instep of your foot is raised more than normal, flat feet, low arches or no arches at all, bunions a bony swelling at the base of the toe. Hammer toe, where the toe is bent at the middle joint. Being active and playing sport can make the painful symptoms of Morton's neuroma worse. In particular, running or sports that involve running, such as racquet sports, can place extra pressure on the nerve in your foot, which can aggravate the problem.
A Morton's neuroma usually causes burning pain, numbness or tingling at the base of the third, fourth or second toes. Pain also can spread from the ball of the foot out to the tips of the toes. In some cases, there also is the sensation of a lump, a fold of sock or a "hot pebble" between the toes. Typically, the pain of a Morton's neuroma is relieved temporarily by taking off your shoes, flexing your toes and rubbing your feet. Symptoms may be aggravated by standing for prolonged periods or by wearing high heels or shoes with a narrow toe box.
The clinical symptoms should quickly lead your doctor to suspect a neuroma. When examined, the doctor may feel a "click" which is known as Mulder's sign. There may be tenderness in the interspace. The metatarsal bones will also be examined both clinically (and often with an xray). Tenderness at one of the metatarsal bones can suggest an overstress reaction (pre-stress fracture or stress fracture) in the bone. An ultrasound scan can confirm the diagnosis and is a less expensive and at this time, at least as sensitive a test as an MRI. An x-ray does not show neuromas, but can be useful to "rule out" other causes of the pain.
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.
If symptoms do not respond to any of the above measures then surgery may be suggested. This involves a short 30 minute operation to either remove tissue to take pressure off the nerve or to remove the nerve causing the pain. The surgery can be done as a day case but it will be two or three weeks before you can be fully active on your feet. There may be some lingering numbness afterwards if the nerve is removed. But surgery is successful in around 80% of cases. There is a small risk of complications such as infection and thickening of the skin on the soles of the feet.
Wearing shoes that fit properly and that have plenty of room in the toe area may help prevent Morton's neuroma.