During certain activities, particularly weight-bearing activities (e.g. walking or running) a compressive force, is sometimes placed on the interdigital nerves and surrounding soft tissue, between the metatarsal bones (this is often the case with tight fitting shoes or in patients with flat feet). If this force is repetitive enough and beyond what the nerve and soft tissue can withstand, swelling to the nerve and soft tissue may occur. This may result in pain, tenderness, pins and needles or numbness in the forefoot or toes. When this happens, the condition is known as a Morton’s neuroma.
The exact cause is unknown. Doctors believe the following may play a role in the development of this condition. Wearing tight shoes and high heels. Abnormal positioning of toes. Flat feet. Forefoot problems, including bunions and hammer toes. High foot arches. Morton neuroma is more common in women than in men.
Feelings of numbness, tingling or tenderness in the ball of the foot (the area just behind the base of the toes) are some of the first signs of a condition known as Morton?s Neuroma. However, the condition is somewhat unpredictable, and symptoms may vary from patient to patient. Generally, however, the discomfort gets worse rather than better, and the patient may feel pain or a burning sensation that radiates out to the toes. Eventually, wearing shoes becomes uncomfortable (or even unbearable), and the patient may complain that the feeling is similar to that of having a stone bruise, or walking on a marble or pebble constantly, even though no there is no trauma to the skin, and no visible bump or lump on the sole of the foot.
Plain x-rays of the foot may demonstrate that one or more of the metatarsals are long (Figure #5). Not uncommonly, the second and/or third metatarsal may be long relative to the third or fourth. This can create a situation where excessive load is occurring in and around the vicinity of the interdigital nerve.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics and corticosteroid injections are widely used conservative treatments for Morton?s neuroma. In addition to traditional orthotic arch supports, a small foam or fabric pad may be positioned under the space between the two affected metatarsals, immediately behind the bone ends. This pad helps to splay the metatarsal bones and create more space for the nerve so as to relieve pressure and irritation. It may however also elicit mild uncomfortable sensations of its own, such as the feeling of having an awkward object under one’s foot. Corticosteroid injections can relieve inflammation in some patients and help to end the symptoms. For some patients, however, the inflammation and pain recur after some weeks or months, and corticosteroids can only be used a limited number of times because they cause progressive degeneration of ligamentous and tendinous tissues.
Surgery for Morton’s neuroma is usually a treatment of last resort. It may be recommended if you have severe pain in your foot or if non-surgical treatments haven’t worked. Surgery is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, on an outpatient basis, which means you won’t need to stay in hospital overnight. The operation can take up to 30 minutes. The surgeon will make a small incision, either on the top of your foot or on the sole. They may try to increase the space around the nerve (nerve decompression) by removing some of the surrounding tissue, or they may remove the nerve completely (nerve resection). If the nerve is removed, the area between your toes may be permanently numb. After the procedure you’ll need to wear a special protective shoe until the affected area has healed sufficiently to wear normal footwear. It can take up to four weeks to make a full recovery. Most people (about 75%) who have surgery to treat Morton’s neuroma have positive results and their painful symptoms are relieved.