Patients with Morton?s neuroma present with pain in the forefoot, particularly in the ?ball? of the foot. However, not all pain in the forefoot is a Morton?s neuroma. In fact, most chronic pain in the forefoot is NOT the result of a Morton?s neuroma, but rather is from metatarsalgia – inflammation (synovitis) of the ?toe/foot? joints. The symptoms from Morton?s neuroma are due to irritation to the small digital nerves, as they pass across the sole of the foot and into the toes. Therefore, with a true Morton?s neuroma, it is not uncommon to have nerve-type symptoms, which can include numbness or a burning sensation extending into the toes. There are several interdigital nerves in the forefoot. The most common nerve to develop into a neuroma is between the 3rd and 4th toes. With a true neuroma, the pain should be isolated to just one or two toes.
Anything that causes compression or irritation of the nerve can lead to the development of a neuroma. One of the most common offenders is wearing shoes that have a tapered toe box, or high-heeled shoes that cause the toes to be forced into the toe box. People with certain foot deformities – bunions, hammertoes, flatfeet, or more flexible feet – are at higher risk for developing a neuroma. Other potential causes are activities that involve repetitive irritation to the ball of the foot, such as running or court sports. An injury or other type of trauma to the area may also lead to a neuroma.
You may initially experience a tingling sensation in the space between your toes, which gets worse over time. This leads to cramp in your toes and a sharp shooting or burning pain on the ball of your foot or at the base of your toes. The pain is often worse when walking or wearing shoes that press on the affected area. This is caused by irritation of the nerve between your toe bones (metatarsal bones). The tingling will eventually lead to pain, which can get worse over time. You may also experience cramping of your toes. The pain is usually felt as a sharp shooting or burning pain on the ball of the foot or at the base of the toes, which is often made worse when you’re walking. Some people with Morton’s neuroma feel anxious about walking or even placing their foot on the ground. The pain is likely to be more intense if you wear tight shoes, so wearing shoes that have more room in the toe area can help. Rubbing your foot may also lessen the pain.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose a Morton’s neuroma. Investigations such as an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or bone scan may sometimes be used to assist with diagnosis, assess the severity of the injury and rule out other conditions.
Non Surgical Treatment
If symptoms are severe or persistent and self-help measures did not help, the doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections, a steroid medication that reduces inflammation and pain is injected into the area of the neuroma. Only a limited number of injections are advised, otherwise the risk of undesirable side effects increases, including hypertension (high blood pressure) and weight gain. Alcohol sclerosing injections, studies have shown that alcohol injections reduce the size of Morton’s neuromas as well as alleviating pain. This is a fairly new therapy and may not be available everywhere. The doctor injects alcohol in the area of the neuroma to help sclerose (harden) the nerve and relieve pain. Injections are typically administered every 7 to 10 days. For maximum relief 4 to 7 injections are usually needed.
If conservative treatments haven’t helped, your doctor might suggest injections. Some people are helped by the injection of steroids into the painful area. In some cases, surgeons can relieve the pressure on the nerve by cutting nearby structures, such as the ligament that binds together some of the bones in the front of the foot. Surgical removal of the growth may be necessary if other treatments fail to provide pain relief. Although surgery is usually successful, the procedure can result in permanent numbness in the affected toes.
How can Morton?s neuroma be prevented? Do not wear tight shoes or high-heeled shoes for prolonged periods. Do wear shoes with a wide toe box so that your toes are not squeezed or cramped. Do wear athletic footwear with enough padding to cushion the balls of the feet when exercising or participating in sports.