Morton’s neuroma is a painful condition that affects the ball of your foot, most commonly the area between your third and fourth toes. Morton’s neuroma may feel as if you are standing on a pebble in your shoe or on a fold in your sock. Morton’s neuroma involves a thickening of the tissue around one of the nerves leading to your toes. This can cause a sharp, burning pain in the ball of your foot. Your toes also may sting, burn or feel numb. High-heeled shoes have been linked to the development of Morton’s neuroma. Many people experience relief by switching to lower heeled shoes with wider toe boxes. Sometimes corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
Various factors have been implicated in the precipitation of Morton’s neuroma. Morton’s neuroma is known to develop as a result of chronic nerve stress and irritation, particularly with excessive toe dorsiflexion. Poorly fitting and constricting shoes (ie, small toe box) or shoes with heel lifts often contribute to Morton’s neuroma. Women who wear high-heeled shoes for a number of years or men who are required to wear constrictive shoe gear are at risk. A biomechanical theory of causation involves the mechanics of the foot and ankle. For instance, individuals with tight gastrocnemius-soleus muscles or who excessively pronate the foot may compensate by dorsiflexion of the metatarsals subsequently irritating of the interdigital nerve. Certain activities carry increased risk of excessive toe dorsiflexion, such as prolonged walking, running, squatting, and demi-pointe position in ballet.
Symptoms include tingling in the space between the third and fourth toes, toe cramping, a sharp, shooting, or burning pain in the ball of the foot and sometimes toes, pain that increases when wearing shoes or pressing on the area, pain that gets worse over time. In rare cases, nerve pain occurs in the space between the second and third toes. This is not a common form of Morton neuroma, but treatment is similar.
In some cases your doctor will be able to feel the Morton’s as a swelling in the middle of your foot. However they may also suggest an X-ray or a blood test – this is normally to rule our other causes of the pain such as arthritis. The most accurate way to diagnose Morton?s itself is with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most important factor in the treatment of Morton’s neuroma is changing footwear. Sometimes a cushioned dome pad can be worn inside the shoe and this helps spread the metatarsal heads and decrease pressure on the nerve. There are other products that can be worn between the toes with certain types of shoes or when the client is barefoot. These toe spacers will help reverse biomechanical patterns that aggravate the nerve compression. Massage can be helpful, but should not be performed with deep pressure between the metatarsal heads. Additional pressure in this region can aggravate the nerve compression and prolong the pathology.
About one person in four will not require any surgery for Morton’s neuroma and their symptoms can be controlled with footwear modification and steroid/local anaesthetic injections. Of those who choose to have surgery, about three out of four will have good results with relief of their symptoms. Recurrent or persisting (chronic) symptoms can occur after surgery. Sometimes, decompression of the nerve may have been incomplete or the nerve may just remain ‘irritable’. In those who have had cutting out (resection) of the nerve (neurectomy), a recurrent or ‘stump’ neuroma may develop in any nerve tissue that was left behind. This can sometimes be more painful than the original condition.
To help reduce your chance of developing Morton’s neuroma avoid wearing tight and/or high-heeled shoes. Maintain or achieve ideal body weight. If you play sports, wear roomy, properly fitting athletic footwear.