Morton’s neuroma, also called Morton’s metatarsalgia, Morton’s disease, Morton’s neuralgia, Morton metatarsalgia, Morton nerve entrapment, plantar neuroma, or intermetatarsal neuroma is a benign (non-cancerous) growth of nerve tissue (neuroma) that develops in the foot, usually between the third and fourth toes (an intermetatarsal plantar nerve, most commonly of the third and fourth intermetatarsal spaces). It is a common, painful condition.
There are many reasons to develop a neuroma. Improper shoe gear is probably the most likely cause. Repetitive activity and excessive pressure on the ball of the foot are common. Heredity and genetic factors may also be involved. In many cases the structure of the foot may predispose the condition. Associated conditions that may cause neuroma include: bunion, hammer toes, ligament laxity, and/or a tight calf muscle. Some patients may have thinning of the fat pad on the ball of the foot, which may result in increased pressure of the nerves. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) without padding may induce pain in the ball of the foot. Neuroma may occur suddenly, or develop over time.
The primary symptoms include sharp, shooting pain, numbness or paresthesia in the forefoot and extending distally into the toes, typically in the region of the third and fourth toes. Symptoms are aggravated with narrow toe box shoes or those with high heels. There is usually a reduction of symptoms when walking barefoot or wearing shoes with an appropriately wide toe box. Symptoms are also aggravated with shoes that are tied too tight.
Morton’s neuroma is usually diagnosed by your doctor listening to your symptoms and examining your foot. Sometimes your doctor can feel the ‘neuroma’, or an area of thickening in your foot, which may be tender. Sometimes, your doctor may suggest an ultrasound scan or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis but this is not always necessary. Some doctors inject a local anaesthetic into the area where you are experiencing pain. If this causes temporary relief of pain, burning and tingling, it can sometimes help to confirm the diagnosis and show the doctor where the problem is.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial therapies are nonsurgical and relatively simple. They can involve one or more of the following treatments. Changes in footwear. Avoid high heels or tight shoes, and wear wider shoes with lower heels and a soft sole. This enables the bones to spread out and may reduce pressure on the nerve, giving it time to heal. Orthoses. Custom shoe inserts and pads also help relieve irritation by lifting and separating the bones, reducing the pressure on the nerve. Injection. One or more injections of a corticosteroid medication can reduce the swelling and inflammation of the nerve, bringing some relief. Several studies have shown that a combination of roomier, more comfortable shoes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, custom foot orthoses and cortisone injections provide relief in over 80 percent of people with Morton’s Neuroma.
Surgery for Morton’s neuroma is usually a treatment of last resort. It may be recommended if you have severe pain in your foot or if non-surgical treatments haven’t worked. Surgery is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, on an outpatient basis, which means you won’t need to stay in hospital overnight. The operation can take up to 30 minutes. The surgeon will make a small incision, either on the top of your foot or on the sole. They may try to increase the space around the nerve (nerve decompression) by removing some of the surrounding tissue, or they may remove the nerve completely (nerve resection). If the nerve is removed, the area between your toes may be permanently numb. After the procedure you’ll need to wear a special protective shoe until the affected area has healed sufficiently to wear normal footwear. It can take up to four weeks to make a full recovery. Most people (about 75%) who have surgery to treat Morton’s neuroma have positive results and their painful symptoms are relieved.
Ensuring that shoes are well fitted, low-heeled and with a wide toe area may help to prevent Morton’s neuroma.