Morton’s neuroma is a swollen or thickened nerve in the ball of your foot. When your toes are squeezed together too often and for too long, the nerve that runs between your toes can swell and get thicker. This swelling can make it painful when you walk on that foot. High-heeled, tight, or narrow shoes can make pain worse. Sometimes, changing to shoes that give your toes more room can help.
Morton’s neuroma may be the result of irritation, pressure or injury. In some cases its cause is unknown. In the majority of cases only one nerve is affected. Having both feet affected is extremely rare. A high percentage of patients with Morton’s neuroma are women who wear high-heeled or narrow shoes. Patients with Morton’s neuroma may need to change their footwear, take painkillers or steroid injections, while others may require surgery to either remove the affected nerve or release the pressure on it.
The most common presenting complaints include pain and dysesthesias in the forefoot and corresponding toes adjacent to the neuroma. Pain is described as sharp and burning, and it may be associated with cramping. Numbness often is observed in the toes adjacent to the neuroma and seems to occur along with episodes of pain. Pain typically is intermittent, as episodes often occur for minutes to hours at a time and have long intervals (ie, weeks to months) between a single or small group of multiple attacks. Some patients describe the sensation as “walking on a marble.” Massage of the affected area offers significant relief. Narrow tight high-heeled shoes aggravate the symptoms. Night pain is reported but is rare.
The diagnosis of a Morton’s neuroma can usually be made by the doctor when the history of pain suggests it and the examination elicits the symptoms. The foot is generally tender when the involved area is compressed and symptoms of pain and sometimes tingling can be elicited when the sides of the foot are squeezed. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound testing can be used to confirm the diagnosis if necessary.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics and corticosteroid injections are widely used conservative treatments for Morton?s neuroma. In addition to traditional orthotic arch supports, a small foam or fabric pad may be positioned under the space between the two affected metatarsals, immediately behind the bone ends. This pad helps to splay the metatarsal bones and create more space for the nerve so as to relieve pressure and irritation. It may however also elicit mild uncomfortable sensations of its own, such as the feeling of having an awkward object under one’s foot. Corticosteroid injections can relieve inflammation in some patients and help to end the symptoms. For some patients, however, the inflammation and pain recur after some weeks or months, and corticosteroids can only be used a limited number of times because they cause progressive degeneration of ligamentous and tendinous tissues.
Operative treatment of Morton?s neuroma should be entertained only after failure of non-operative management. Standard operative treatment involves identifying the nerve and cutting (resecting) it proximal to the point where it is irritated/injured. This is usually done through an incision on the top (dorsal) aspect of the foot, although an incision on the sole (plantar) aspect of the foot can be used. Some physicians will attempt to treat Morton?s neuroma by releasing the intermetatarsal ligament, and freeing the nerve of local scar tissue. This may also be beneficial.