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).
When a nerve is pinched between bones, the result is swelling of the nerve. It is this swelling which is referred to as a Neuroma. When the condition occurs in the foot, it is known as a Morton?s Neuroma. Morton?s Neuroma is technically not a tumor. Rather, it is a thickening of the tissue that surrounds the digital nerves leading to the toes. These nerves allow for physical sensation on the skin of the toes. The region of inflammation is found where the digital nerve passes under the ligament connecting the toe bones (metatarsals) in the forefoot. Morton?s Neuroma commonly develops between the third and fourth toes, generally as a result of ongoing irritation, trauma or excessive pressure. In some cases, the second and third toes are involved. Morton?s Neuroma is confined to one foot in most cases, though it can occur in both, particularly in athletes such as runners.
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.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose a Morton’s neuroma. Investigations such as an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or bone scan may sometimes be used to assist with diagnosis, assess the severity of the injury and rule out other conditions.
Non Surgical Treatment
Symptoms of a Morton’s neuroma can completely resolve with simple treatments, such as resting the foot, better-fitting shoes, anti-inflammation medications, and ice packs. More rapid relief of symptoms can follow a local cortisone injection. Symptoms can progressively worsen with time. For those with persistent symptoms, the swollen nerve tissue is removed with a surgical operation.
The ultimate success of a Morton?s neuroma treated surgically is somewhat unclear. This is likely due to the idea that in most instances a ?Morton?s neuroma? is actually more than just an isolated nerve problem but rather consitutes a metatarsalgia where other structures (such a as the MTP joints) are also problematic, not just the nerve. Therefore, addressing the nerve as well as the other components of a metatarsalgia may offer a better chance of surgical success. However, like many conditions in foot and ankle, it is ideal if this condition can be managed without surgery.
Wearing shoes that fit properly and that have plenty of room in the toe area may help prevent Morton’s neuroma.