Morton neuromas are focal areas of symptomatic perineural fibrosis around a plantar digital nerve of the foot. The abnormality is non-neoplastic and does not represent a true neuroma. It may more correctly be known as Morton?s metatarsalgia. The condition is thought to be due to chronic entrapment of the nerve by the intermetatarsal ligament. It most often occurs in middle-aged individuals and is many times more common in women than men. Approximately 30% of asymptomatic middle-aged persons have the radiological pathologic findings of a Morton?s neuroma.
A Morton’s Neuroma is not a true neuroma, which is a tumor that is generally benign. Rather, it is an enlargement of the nerve where it goes between the metatarsal bones of the foot. Because the nerve no longer fits between the gap, the pressure causes pain and sometimes numbness. This enlargement of the nerve is often an inflammation due to irritation. If the forefoot becomes compressed due to shoes that are too narrow, the nerve becomes damaged and inflamed. This inflammation means the nerve no longer fits in the space between the bones, creating further irritation and more inflammation. If this vicious circle can be broken, the problem may be resolved. However, in some situations the nerve can have fibrous tissues formed around it, which may require the destruction of the nerve or surgical removal.
People with Morton’s neuroma usually complain of pain that can start in the ball of the foot and shoot into the affected toes. However, some people just have toe pain. There may also be burning and tingling of the toes. The symptoms are usually felt up the sides of the space between two toes. For example, if the nerve between the third and fourth long bones (metatarsals) of the right foot is affected, the symptoms will usually be felt up the right-hand side of the fourth toe and up the left-hand side of the third toe. Some people describe the pain that they feel as being like walking on a stone or a marble. Symptoms can be made worse if you wear high-heeled shoes. The pain is relieved by taking your shoe off, resting your foot and massaging the area. You may also experience some numbness between the affected toes. Your affected toes may also appear to be spread apart, which doctors refer to as the ‘V sign’. The symptoms can vary and may come and go over a number of years. For example, some people may experience two attacks of pain in a week and then nothing for a year. Others may have regular and persistent (chronic) pain.
To diagnose Morton’s neuroma the podiatrist commonly palpates the area to elicit pain, squeezing the toes from the side. Next he or she may try to feel the neuroma by pressing a thumb into the third interspace. The podiatrist then tries to elicit Mulder’s sign, by palpating the affected interspace with one hand and squeezing the entire foot at the same time with the other hand. In many cases of Morton’s neuroma, this causes an audible click, known as Mulder’s sign. An x-ray should be taken to ensure that there is not a fracture. X-rays also can be used to examine the joints and bone density, ruling out arthritis (particularly rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis).
Non Surgical Treatment
Pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for a neuroma. Analgesics may help. Inflammation it best eased via ice therapy and techniques or exercises that deload the inflammed structures. Anti-inflammatory medications may help. Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to reduce your pain and inflammation. These include: ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, deloading taping techniques, soft tissue massage and orthotics to offload the irritated nerve. One of the biggest factors in relieving pain may be changing or modifying your footwear. This may mean adding felt, foam or gel products to your shoe to help offload the area, or looking at avoiding tight fitting heels or shoes.
If pain persists with conservative care, surgery may be an appropriate option. The common digitial nerve is cut and the Mortons neuroma removed. This will result is numbness along the inside of the toes affected, and there is a small chance the end of the nerve will form a Stump Neuroma. Approximately 75% of people receive symptom resolution for Mortons Neuroma with conservative care.