Morton’s metatarsalgia is a condition associated with a painful neuroma* on the digital nerve causing pain in the foot. Charcterised by perineural fibrosis and nerve degeneration due to repetitive irritation, is thought to be due to irritation of the digital nerve caused by repeated trauma, ischemia or entrapment of the nerve, occurs most frequently in women aged 40-50 who wear high-heeled, pointed-toe shoes. The neuroma occurs at the level of the metatarsal necks. The common digital nerve to the third/fourth metatarsal spaces is most often affected, although other interspaces can be involved.
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.
Many patients describe the sensation as a burning pain in the ball of the foot that often radiates to the toes. Initially, the pain may become much more apparent when the person wears tight, narrow or high-heeled shoes, or engages in activities which place pressure on the foot. Eventually, symptoms may be continuous and last for days, and even weeks. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans have revealed Morton’s neuroma lesions in patients who had no symptoms at all. Symptoms can become so disrupting that many affected individuals become anxious about walking, or even placing their foot on the ground.
You might first seek advice from your family doctor about your foot pain. He or she may refer you to a doctor or surgeon who specializes in foot disorders. Before your appointment, you may want to write a list of answers to the following questions. When did your symptoms begin? Did your symptoms begin gradually or suddenly? What type of footwear do you wear for work? Do you participate in sports? If so, what types in particular? What medications and supplements do you take regularly? Your doctor may ask some of the following questions. Is the pain worse in certain pairs of shoes? Does any type of activity ease the pain or worsen it? Are you having pain in any other part of your body?
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.
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.