Morton?s neuroma is a swollen nerve in the distal portion of the foot. The enlarged portion of the nerve represents scarring within the plantar nerve that occurs after chronic compression and/or repetitive injury. This may come about when the toes are squeezed together for too long, as can occur with the chronic use of high heels. The nerve that runs between your toes will swell and thicken. This can cause pain when walking. The symptoms of Morton?s neuroma can include burning pain in the foot, the feeling of a lump inside your foot, pain between the third and fourth toes typically but it can occur between other toes.
The cause of this problem is often due to impingement of the plantar nerve fibres between the metatarsal heads and the intermetatarsal ligament. It is entirely a biomechanical phenomenon. Differential diagnoses include stress fracture, capsulitis, bursitis or ligament injury at the metatarsal-phalangeal joint, a tendon sheath ganglion, foreign-body reaction and nerve-sheath tumour.
Episodes of pain are intermittent. Patients may experience 2 attacks in a week and then none for a year. Recurrences are variable and tend to become more frequent. Between attacks, no symptoms or physical signs occur. Two neuromas coexist on the same foot about 2-3% of the time. Other diagnoses should be considered when 2 or more areas of tenderness are present.
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
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.
Surgery for neuroma most often involves removing affected nerve in the ball of the foot. An incision is made on the top of the foot and the nerve is carefully removed. Surgeon must remove the nerve far enough back so that the nerve doesn?t continue to become impinged at the ball of the foot. Alternatitvely, another type of surgery involves releasing a tight ligament that encases the nerve. Recovery after Morton?s neuroma (neurectomy) surgery is generally quick. Typically patients are walking on the operated foot in a post-surgical shoe for 2 - 4 weeks, depending on healing. Return to shoes is 2-6 weeks after the surgery. Factors that may prolong healing are age, smoking, poor nutritional status, and some medical problems.