A neuroma develops when a nerve is compressed, injured or pinched, causing swelling and pain. A neuroma in the area between the third and fourth toes, or between the second and third toes, is known as a Morton?s neuroma. Morton?s neuroma causes sharp, burning pain and numbness in the toes and foot. You may feel like you?ve stepped on a tiny hot coal and can?t get rid of it. At the same time, you?ll have the disconcerting experience of not being able to feel your toes. Sometimes the nerve tissue becomes so thickened you can feel or see a lump.
The exact cause of Morton?s neuroma is not known, but the choice of footwear seems be a factor. Wearing high heels (shoes with heels over 2 inches) can put extra pressure on the balls of the feet. Wearing tight or pointed toed shoes may squeeze the toes together or otherwise constrict their movement. For that reason, women are about 8 to 10 times more likely to develop Morton?s neuroma compared with men. People who are born with flat feet, high arches, or an abnormal position of the toes are more prone to developing Morton?s neuroma. This may be due to instability around the toe joints. Certain conditions that develop over time, such as bunions or hammer toes, are also associated with Morton?s neuroma. Some sports that involve running, including tennis and other racquet sports, can also increase the chance of developing Morton?s neuroma due to trauma or injury to the foot.
Morton?s neuroma is a progressive condition which means the symptoms typically get worse over time. Initially people often complain of a tingling or numbness at the base of their toes, typically in the space between the third and fourth toes, or, less commonly , between the second and third toes, which feels a bit like pins and needles. Over time the pain progresses and can feel like a stabbing or burning sensation in the ball of the foot under the toes. Some describe it as feeling as if they are standing on a stone. Normally the pain will get worse when you wear tight fitting shoes. Doing exercise that impacts on the foot such as jogging can also make the symptoms worse. The extent of the pain varies from person to person but in some cases it can be so intense that every step can feel acutely painful.
The physician will make the diagnosis of Morton’s neuroma based upon the patient’s symptoms as described above in an interview, or history, and a physical examination. The physical examination will reveal exceptional tenderness in the involved interspace when the nerve area is pressed on the bottom of the foot. As the interspace is palpated, and pressure is applied from the top to the bottom of the foot, a click can sometimes be felt which reproduces the patient’s pain. This is known as a Mulder’s sign. Because of inconsistent results, imaging studies such as MRI or ultrasound scanning are not useful diagnostic tools for Morton’s neuroma. Thus the physician must rely exclusively on the patient’s history and physical examination in order to make a diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
You may need a metatarsal pad if wider shoes do not help relieve your Morton?s neuroma symptoms. A metatarsal pad will help spread your metatarsal bones and reduce pressure on your affected nerve as it travels under the ball of your foot. The placement of your metatarsal pad is important, and it is best placed by a foot care professional who has experience in the anatomy of the forefoot and Morton?s neuroma treatment.
If your pain continues despite several months of conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the neuroma or to widen the space through which the affected nerve travels. These types of surgery often are done under local anesthesia. If your doctor removes a portion of the affected nerve along with the neuroma, you may develop permanent numbness between the toes.
It is not always possible to prevent a Morton’s neuroma. However, you probably can reduce your risk by wearing comfortable shoes that have low heels, plenty of toe space and good arch support.