This is a painful condition affecting a small nerve in the foot. It occurs when the five long bones that run the length of the foot get pushed together, pinching the nerve in between. This friction on the nerve causes it to thicken and inflame causing pain. The condition gets its name from an American surgeon, George Morton.
A Morton's neuroma commonly occurs due to repetitive weight bearing activity (such as walking or running) particularly when combined with tight fitting shoes or excessive pronation of the feet (i.e. "flat-feet"). The condition is also more common in patients with an unstable forefoot allowing excessive movement between the metatarsal bones. A Morton's neuroma can also occur due to certain foot deformities, trauma to the foot, or the presence of a ganglion or inflamed bursa in the region which may place compressive forces on the nerve.
Patients will feel pain that worsens with walking, particularly when walking in shoes with thin soles or high heels. Also, anything that squeezes the metatarsal heads together may aggravate symptoms, such as narrow shoes. A patient may feel the need to remove the shoe and rub the foot to soothe the pain.
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 developing a treatment plan, your foot and ankle surgeon will first determine how long you?ve had the neuroma and evaluate its stage of development. Treatment approaches vary according to the severity of the problem. For mild to moderate neuromas, treatment options may include Padding techniques provide support for the metatarsal arch, thereby lessening the pressure on the nerve and decreasing the compression when walking. Placing an icepack on the affected area helps reduce swelling. Custom orthotic devices provided by your foot and ankle surgeon provide the support needed to reduce pressure and compression on the nerve. Activities that put repetitive pressure on the neuroma should be avoided until the condition improves. Wear shoes with a wide toe box and avoid narrow-toed shoes or shoes with high heels. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. Treatment may include injections of cortisone, local anesthetics or other agents.
Should the problem have progressed beyond the point where these measures are sufficient, the podiatric professional may recommend surgery. This procedure involves excision of the involved nerve mass. This will relieve the pain. Many patients report permanent numbness in the spot formerly affected by the neuroma, but prefer it to the pain. Most surgeries are successful; unfortunately, there are cases where the patient suffers another neuroma, sometimes in or near the same spot as before. A podiatric professional can explain the statistics of recurrence in various cases. If you suspect a neuroma, don?t wait for it to get better on its own. The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the likelihood that it can be treated with conservative measures. Don?t think that foot pain of any kind is inevitable, either, even if it runs in your family.
Wearing shoes that fit properly and that have plenty of room in the toe area may help prevent Morton's neuroma.