A neuroma is a thickening of nerve tissue that may develop in various parts of the body. The most common neuroma in the foot is a Morton?s neuroma, which occurs between 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. Neuromas may also occur in other locations in the foot. MortonThe thickening, or enlargement, of the nerve that defines a neuroma is the result of compression and irritation of the nerve. This compression creates enlargement of the nerve, eventually leading to permanent nerve damage.
A Morton’s Neuroma is not a true neuroma, which is a tumor that is generally benign. Rather, it is an enlargement of the nerve where it goes between the metatarsal bones of the foot. Because the nerve no longer fits between the gap, the pressure causes pain and sometimes numbness. This enlargement of the nerve is often an inflammation due to irritation. If the forefoot becomes compressed due to shoes that are too narrow, the nerve becomes damaged and inflamed. This inflammation means the nerve no longer fits in the space between the bones, creating further irritation and more inflammation. If this vicious circle can be broken, the problem may be resolved. However, in some situations the nerve can have fibrous tissues formed around it, which may require the destruction of the nerve or surgical removal.
Patients will often experience a clicking feeling in the forefoot followed by a sharp shooting pain or a sensation of numbness or pins and needles extending into ends of their toes. Tight narrow fitting shoes may often exacerbate these feelings which become worse after long periods of standing or walking. Once the Mortons nueroma progresses symptoms will become more frequent and often more intense.
Podiatrists conduct a physical examination and may order imaging tests, such as x-ray or MRI scan to diagnose Morton’s neuroma. Conservative treatment options include custom-fitted orthotics, medication, and/or alcohol injections designed to harden the nerve. However, most patients with Morton’s neuroma need minor surgery.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment strategies for Morton’s neuroma range from conservative to surgical management. The conservative approach to treating Morton’s neuroma may benefit from the involvement of a physical therapist. The physical therapist can assist the physician in decisions regarding the modification of footwear, which is the first treatment step. Recommend soft-soled shoes with a wide toe box and low heel (eg, an athletic shoe). High-heeled, narrow, nonpadded shoes should not be worn, because they aggravate the condition. The next step in conservative management is to alter alignment of the metatarsal heads. One recommended action is to elevate the metatarsal head medial and adjacent to the neuroma, thereby preventing compression and irritation of the digital nerve. A plantar pad is used most often for elevation. Have the patient insert a felt or gel pad into the shoe to achieve the desired elevation of the above metatarsal head. Other possible physical therapy treatment ideas for patients with Morton’s neuroma include cryotherapy, ultrasonography, deep tissue massage, and stretching exercises. Ice is beneficial to decrease the associated inflammation. Phonophoresis also can be used, rather than just ultrasonography, to further decrease pain and inflammation.
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.