Morton’s neuroma is a painful foot condition that occurs when a nerve, usually between the third and fourth toes, expands and becomes compressed. Shoes, particularly high heels or shoes with tight toe boxes, and walking often make the pain worse. In some cases, patients with Morton’s neuroma find short-term pain relief when they do not put weight on the affected foot.
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.
Symptoms include: pain on weight bearing, frequently after only a short time. The nature of the pain varies widely among individuals. Some people experience shooting pain affecting the contiguous halves of two toes. Others describe a feeling like having a pebble in their shoe or walking on razor blades. Burning, numbness, and paresthesia may also be experienced. Morton’s neuroma lesions have been found using MRI in patients without symptoms.
There is a special orthopedic test called the Morton’s test that is often used to evaluate the likelihood of plantar nerve compression. For this test, the client is supine on the treatment table. The practitioner grasps the client’s forefoot from both sides and applies moderate pressure, squeezing the metatarsal heads together. If this action reproduces the client’s symptoms (primarily sharp, shooting pain into the toes, especially the third and fourth), Morton’s neuroma may exist.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sclerosing alcohol injections are an increasingly available treatment alternative if the above management approaches fail. Dilute alcohol (4%) is injected directly into the area of the neuroma, causing toxicity to the fibrous nerve tissue. Frequently, treatment must be performed 2-4 times, with 1-3 weeks between interventions. An 60-80% success rate has been achieved in clinical studies, equal to or exceeding the success rate for surgical neurectomy with fewer risks and less significant recovery. If done with more concentrated alcohol under ultrasound guidance, the success rate is considerably higher and fewer repeat procedures are needed. Radio Frequency Ablation is also used in the treatment of Morton’s Neuroma The outcomes appear to be equally or more reliable than alcohol injections especially if the procedure is done under ultrasound guidance.
Surgery for neuroma most often involves removing affected nerve in the ball of the foot. An incision is made on the top of the foot and the nerve is carefully removed. Surgeon must remove the nerve far enough back so that the nerve doesn?t continue to become impinged at the ball of the foot. Alternatitvely, another type of surgery involves releasing a tight ligament that encases the nerve. Recovery after Morton?s neuroma (neurectomy) surgery is generally quick. Typically patients are walking on the operated foot in a post-surgical shoe for 2 – 4 weeks, depending on healing. Return to shoes is 2-6 weeks after the surgery. Factors that may prolong healing are age, smoking, poor nutritional status, and some medical problems.
Women, particularly those who wear tight shoes, are at greatest risk for Morton?s neuroma. The best way to prevent the condition is to wear shoes with wide toe boxes. Tight, pointed shoes squeeze bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. High heels may worsen the problem by shifting your weight forward. Over time, this combination can cause the nerves to swell and become painful.