Put simply - Morton's neuroma is a swollen (inflamed) nerve in the ball of the foot, commonly between the base of the second and third toes. Patients experience numbness and pain in the affected area, which is relieved by removing footwear and/or massaging the foot. A neuroma is a tumor that arises in nerve cells, a benign growth of nerve tissue that can develop in various parts of the body. In Morton's neuroma the tissue around one of the nerves leading to the toes thickens, causing a sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot. A sharp severe pain, often described as a red hot needle may come on suddenly while walking. There may also be numbness, burning and stinging in the toes. Although it is labeled a neuroma, many say it is not a true tumor, but rather a perineural fibroma (fibrous tissue formation around nerve tissue).
There are a number of common causes for Morton?s Neuroma, (though the condition can arise spontaneously for reasons still unknown). The Neuroma often occurs in response to irritation, pressure or traumatic injury to one of the digital nerves leading to the toes. A thickening of nerve tissue results as part of the body?s response to the irritation or injury. Abnormal foot movement used to compensate for bunions, hammertoes, flatfeet and other conditions can lead to irritation and development of Morton?s Neuroma. Pronation of the foot may cause the heads of the metatarsal bones to rotate slightly, thereby pinching the nerve running between the metatarsal heads. Chronic pressure or pinching causes the nerve sheath to enlarge, becoming increasingly squeezed, producing worsening pain over time, if not addressed. Morton?s Neuroma can be exacerbated when tight shoes providing little room for the forefoot are worn. Activities which over-pronate the foot (such as walking barefoot in sand) may increase the pain associated with Morton?s Neuroma, as will any high-impact activity, such as jogging.
It usually occurs in between the 3rd and 4th toes (about 65% of cases) as is pictured to the right. It is less commonly found in the 2nd webspace, and rarely at all in the 1st or 4th webspaces. You can also experience pins and needles and/or numbness as a result of the nerve being affected. The condition tends to occur predominantly in middle aged females.
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
Treatments may include rehabilitation measures to reduce nerve Irritation. Switching to low-heeled, wide-toed shoes with good arch support. Wearing padding in the shoes and/or between the toes. Wearing shoe inserts to correct a mechanical abnormality of the foot. Having ultrasound, electrical stimulation, whirlpool, and massage done on the foot. The foot may be injected with corticosteroids mixed with a local anesthetic in order to reduce pain. Relief may be only temporary, however, if the mechanical irritation is not also corrected. Injections with other types of medications such as alcohol, phenol, or vitamin B12 are sometimes used.
The above measures are often sufficient to resolve Morton?s Neuroma. Should the condition persist or worsen despite these efforts, surgery may be recommended to remove the Neuroma. The surgery requires only a short recovery period, though permanent numbness in the affected toes can result, so such surgery is generally used as a last resort.