The nerves located on the bottom of the foot between the metatarsal heads (the bone of the toe closest to the foot) supply feeling, or sensation, to the toes. One of these nerves may become irritated by the ligament located above it, causing it to become thickened and painful. Generally this problem occurs most often between the third and fourth toes, but it can occur between the second and third toes as well. It is uncommon for a neuroma to be located between the first and second or fourth and fifth metatarsals. Rarely is there more than one neuroma in a foot.
The pain of Morton’s neuroma occurs when the nerve connecting the toe bones (metatarsal bones) becomes irritated or compressed. The exact cause of the irritation is unknown, but it may be the metatarsal bones pressing against the nerve when the gap between the bones is narrow. This causes the nerve and surrounding tissue to thicken. Some experts believe that a number of other foot problems, including flat feet, high foot arches, bunions and hammer toes, may also play a role in Morton’s neuroma.
Morton?s neuroma is a progressive condition which means the symptoms typically get worse over time. Initially people often complain of a tingling or numbness at the base of their toes, typically in the space between the third and fourth toes, or, less commonly , between the second and third toes, which feels a bit like pins and needles. Over time the pain progresses and can feel like a stabbing or burning sensation in the ball of the foot under the toes. Some describe it as feeling as if they are standing on a stone. Normally the pain will get worse when you wear tight fitting shoes. Doing exercise that impacts on the foot such as jogging can also make the symptoms worse. The extent of the pain varies from person to person but in some cases it can be so intense that every step can feel acutely painful.
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
Initial treatment for Morton?s Neuroma may include non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling. These may consist of standard analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Massaging the painful region three times daily with ice. Change of footwear. Avoid tight shoes, high heels or any footwear that seems to irritate the condition. Low heeled shoes with softer soles are preferable. Arch supports and foot pads to help reduce pressure on the nerve. In some cases, a physician may prescribe a customized shoe insert, molded to fit the contours of the patient?s foot. Reducing activities causing stress to the foot, including jogging, dancing, aerobic activity or any high impact movements of the foot. Injections of a corticosteroid medication to reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerve and reduce pain. Occasionally other substances may be injected in order to ?ablate? the Neuroma. (The overuse of injected steroids is to be avoided however, as side effects, including weight gain and high blood pressure can result.)
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.
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.