Some sources claim that entrapment of the plantar nerve because of compression between the metatarsal heads, as originally proposed by Morton, is highly unlikely, because the plantar nerve is on the plantar side of the transverse metatarsal ligament and thus does not come in contact with the metatarsal heads. It is more likely that the transverse metatarsal ligament is the cause of the entrapment. Despite the name, the condition was first correctly described by a chiropodist named Durlacher, and although it is labeled a "neuroma", many sources do not consider it a true tumor, but rather a perineural fibroma (fibrous tissue formation around nerve tissue).
There are many reasons to develop a neuroma. Improper shoe gear is probably the most likely cause. Repetitive activity and excessive pressure on the ball of the foot are common. Heredity and genetic factors may also be involved. In many cases the structure of the foot may predispose the condition. Associated conditions that may cause neuroma include: bunion, hammer toes, ligament laxity, and/or a tight calf muscle. Some patients may have thinning of the fat pad on the ball of the foot, which may result in increased pressure of the nerves. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) without padding may induce pain in the ball of the foot. Neuroma may occur suddenly, or develop over time.
The symptoms of a Morton's neuroma are classic in nature. The patient complains of a burning , tingling, slightly numb feeling (dysesthesias) which radiates out to the toes on either side of the interspace that is involved. For instance, a Morton's neuroma of the third interspace will result in pain between the third and fourth toes, and a neuroma in the second interspace will cause pain between the second and third toes. The symptoms are usually aggravated by wearing shoes, particularly those with high heels. Symptoms are relieved by walking in flat, wide shoes or going barefoot. Rarely will the patient experience pain when sitting or laying down.
Morton's neuroma is usually diagnosed by your doctor listening to your symptoms and examining your foot. Sometimes your doctor can feel the 'neuroma', or an area of thickening in your foot, which may be tender. Sometimes, your doctor may suggest an ultrasound scan or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis but this is not always necessary. Some doctors inject a local anaesthetic into the area where you are experiencing pain. If this causes temporary relief of pain, burning and tingling, it can sometimes help to confirm the diagnosis and show the doctor where the problem is.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for Morton's neuroma may depend on several factors, including the severity of symptoms and how long they have been present. The earlier on the condition is diagnosed, the less likely surgery is required. Doctors will usually recommend self-help measures first. These may include resting the foot, massaging the foot and affected toes. Using an ice pack on the affected area (skin should not be directly exposed to ice, the ice should be in a container or wrapped in something) Changing footwear, wearing wide-toed shoes, or flat (non high-heeled) shoes. Trying arch supports (orthotic devices). A type of padding that supports the arch of the foot, removing pressure from the nerve. The doctor may recommend a custom-made, individually designed shoe-insert, molded to fit the contours of the patient's foot. There are several OTC (over the counter, non-prescription) metatarsal pads or bars available which can be placed over the neuroma. Taking over-the-counter, non-prescription painkilling medications. Modifying activities, avoiding activities which put repetitive pressure on the neuroma until the condition improves. Bodyweight management,if the patient is obese the doctor may advise him/her to lose weight. A significant number of obese patients with foot problems, such as flat feet, who successfully lose weight experience considerable improvement of symptoms.
Operative treatment of Morton?s neuroma should be entertained only after failure of nonoperative management. Standard operative treatment involves identifying the nerve and cutting (resecting) it proximal to the point where it is irritate/injured. This is usually done through an incision on the top (dorsal) aspect of the foot, although in rare instances, an incision on the sole (plantar) aspect of the foot maybe used. An incision on the sole of the foot works very well, unless an excessive scar forms in which case it can be problematic. Some physicians will attempt to treat Morton?s neuroma by releasing the intermetatarsal ligament and freeing the nerve of local scar tissue. This may also be beneficial.
Wearing shoes that fit properly and that have plenty of room in the toe area may help prevent Morton's neuroma.