A Morton’s neuroma is a benign (noncancerous) swelling along a nerve in the foot that carries sensations from the toes. The reason the nerve starts to swell is unknown. But once swelling begins, the nearby bones and ligaments put pressure on the nerve, causing more irritation and inflammation. This produces burning pain, numbness, tingling and other abnormal sensations in the toes. A Morton’s neuroma also is called an interdigital neuroma, intermetatarsal neuroma or a forefoot neuroma.
It’s not always clear what causes Morton’s neuroma, but several things seem to aggravate it. These include other foot-related problems and wearing restrictive footwear. It’s thought that Morton’s neuroma may be caused by the toe bones (metatarsal bones) pressing against the nerve when the gap between the bones is narrow. This causes the nerve and surrounding tissue to thicken.
The most common presenting complaints include pain and dysesthesias in the forefoot and corresponding toes adjacent to the neuroma. Pain is described as sharp and burning, and it may be associated with cramping. Numbness often is observed in the toes adjacent to the neuroma and seems to occur along with episodes of pain. Pain typically is intermittent, as episodes often occur for minutes to hours at a time and have long intervals (ie, weeks to months) between a single or small group of multiple attacks. Some patients describe the sensation as “walking on a marble.” Massage of the affected area offers significant relief. Narrow tight high-heeled shoes aggravate the symptoms. Night pain is reported but is rare.
Morton?s neuroma can be identified during a physical exam, after pressing on the bottom of the foot. This maneuver usually reproduces the patient?s pain. MRI and ultrasound are imaging studiesthat can demonstrate the presence of the neuroma. An x-ray may also be ordered to make sure no other issues exist in the foot. A local anesthetic injection along the neuroma may temporarily abolish the pain, and help confirm the diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
You may be able to treat this problem at home. Avoid wearing tight, pointy, or high-heeled shoes. Choose well-fitted shoes with plenty of room for your toes. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and swelling. These include ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (such as Aleve). Rest your feet when you can. Reduce activities that put pressure on the toes, such as racquet sports or running. Try massaging your foot to relax the muscles around the nerve. If these steps do not relieve your symptoms, your doctor may have you use special pads or devices that spread the toes to keep them from squeezing the nerve. In some cases, a doctor may give a steroid shot to reduce swelling and pain. If these treatments do not help, your doctor may suggest surgery.
When conservative measures are unsuccessful, surgery can be a good choice in the treatment of Morton’s neuroma. The operation for Morton’s neuroma does not require an overnight hospital stay. The anesthetic used is an ankle block, which completely numbs the foot during the surgery. The physician removes the neuroma from an incision made on the top of the foot between the involved metatarsal heads. The nerve to the interspace is exposed and cut next to the metatarsal heads.
Wearing proper footwear that minimizes compression of the forefoot can help to prevent the development of and aggravation of a Morton’s neuroma.