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Overview

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).

Causes

The source of this pain is an enlargment of the sheath of an intermetatarsal nerve in the foot. This usually occurs in the third intermetatarsal space, the space between the third and fourth toes and metatarsals. It occurs here, at the site third intermetatarsal nerve, since this intermetatarsal nerve is the thickest being comprised of the joining of two different nerves. It also may occur in the other intermetatarsal areas, with the second interspace being the next most common location.

Symptoms

Typically, there’s no outward sign of this condition, such as a lump. Instead, you may experience the following symptoms. A feeling as if you’re standing on a pebble in your shoe. A burning pain in the ball of your foot that may radiate into your toes. Tingling or numbness in your toes. It’s best not to ignore any foot pain that lasts longer than a few days. See your doctor if you experience a burning pain in the ball of your foot that’s not improving, despite changing your footwear and modifying activities that may cause stress to your foot.

Diagnosis

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

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.

Surgical Treatment

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.

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