What Causes Mortons Neuroma

Overview

Morton’s Neuroma is the most common neuroma in the foot. It occurs in the forefoot area (the ball of the foot) at the base of the third and fourth toes. It is sometimes referred to as an intermetatarsal neuroma. “Intermetatarsal” describes its location in the ball of the foot between the metatarsal bones (the bones extending from the toes to the midfoot). A neuroma is a thickening, or enlargement, of the nerve as a result of compression or irritation of the nerve. Compression and irritation creates swelling of the nerve, which can eventually lead to permanent nerve damage.

Causes

Some say that this condition should not be called Morton’s neuroma as, in fact, it is not actually a neuroma. A neuroma is a non-cancerous (benign) tumour that grows from the fibrous coverings of a nerve. There is no tumour formation in Morton’s neuroma. The anatomy of the bones of the foot is also thought to contribute to the development of Morton’s neuroma. For example, the space between the long bones (metatarsals) in the foot is narrower between the second and third, and between the third and fourth metatarsals. This means that the nerves that run between these metatarsals are more likely to be compressed and irritated. Wearing narrow shoes can make this compression worse.

Symptoms

Symptoms typically include pain, often with pins and needles on one side of a toe and the adjacent side of the next toe. Pain is made worse by forefoot weight bearing and can also be reproduced by squeezing the forefoot to further compress the nerve. Pressing in between the third and forth metatarsals for example with a pen can also trigger symptoms.

Diagnosis

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

In most cases, initial treatment for this condition consists of padding and taping to disperse weight away from the neuroma. If the patient has flatfeet, an arch support is incorporated into footwear. The patient is instructed to wear shoes with wide toe boxes and avoid shoes with high heels. An injection of local anesthetic to relieve pain and a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation may be administered. The patient is advised to return in a week or 2 to monitor progress. If the pain has been relieved, the neuroma is probably small and caused by the structure of the patient’s foot and the type of shoes the patient wears. It can be relieved by a custom-fitted orthotic that helps maintain the foot in a better position. Another type of therapy that may be used is alcohol sclerosing injections. In this treatment, the doctor injects a small amount of alcohol in the area of the neuroma area to help harden (sclerose) the nerve and relieve the pain. Injections are given every 7-10 days and, in many cases, 4-7 injections are needed for maximum relief. Please ask your physician for more information regarding this type of treatment.

Surgical Treatment

The ultimate success of a Morton?s neuroma treated surgically is somewhat unclear. This is likely due to the idea that in most instances a ?Morton?s neuroma? is actually more than just an isolated nerve problem but rather consitutes a metatarsalgia where other structures (such a as the MTP joints) are also problematic, not just the nerve. Therefore, addressing the nerve as well as the other components of a metatarsalgia may offer a better chance of surgical success. However, like many conditions in foot and ankle, it is ideal if this condition can be managed without surgery.

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