Morton?s neuroma occurs as the nerve passes under the ligament connecting the toe bones (metatarsals) in the forefoot. Morton?s neuroma most frequently develops between the third and fourth toes, usually in response to irritation, trauma or excessive pressure. The incidence of Morton?s neuroma is 8 to 10 times greater in women than in men.
There are a number of common causes for Morton?s Neuroma, (though the condition can arise spontaneously for reasons still unknown). The Neuroma often occurs in response to irritation, pressure or traumatic injury to one of the digital nerves leading to the toes. A thickening of nerve tissue results as part of the body?s response to the irritation or injury. Abnormal foot movement used to compensate for bunions, hammertoes, flatfeet and other conditions can lead to irritation and development of Morton?s Neuroma. Pronation of the foot may cause the heads of the metatarsal bones to rotate slightly, thereby pinching the nerve running between the metatarsal heads. Chronic pressure or pinching causes the nerve sheath to enlarge, becoming increasingly squeezed, producing worsening pain over time, if not addressed. Morton?s Neuroma can be exacerbated when tight shoes providing little room for the forefoot are worn. Activities which over-pronate the foot (such as walking barefoot in sand) may increase the pain associated with Morton?s Neuroma, as will any high-impact activity, such as jogging.
Patients will often experience a clicking feeling in the forefoot followed by a sharp shooting pain or a sensation of numbness or pins and needles extending into ends of their toes. Tight narrow fitting shoes may often exacerbate these feelings which become worse after long periods of standing or walking. Once the Mortons nueroma progresses symptoms will become more frequent and often more intense.
Patients with classic Morton?s neuroma symptoms will have pain with pressure at the base of the involved toes (either between the 2nd and 3rd toes, or between the 3rd and 4th toes). In addition, squeezing the front of the foot together can exacerbate symptoms. As well, they may have numbness on the sides of one toe and the adjacent toe as this corresponds with the distribution of the involved nerve.
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.
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.