A morton's neuroma (or an "inter-digital" neuroma) is found between the toes of the foot, most commonly the third and fourth toes. It can also occur between the metatarsal bones (the long bones in the forefoot). It is basically an entrapped nerve, which becomes inflamed due to constant irritation from the surrounding bony structures.
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.
A Morton's neuroma usually causes burning pain, numbness or tingling at the base of the third, fourth or second toes. Pain also can spread from the ball of the foot out to the tips of the toes. In some cases, there also is the sensation of a lump, a fold of sock or a "hot pebble" between the toes. Typically, the pain of a Morton's neuroma is relieved temporarily by taking off your shoes, flexing your toes and rubbing your feet. Symptoms may be aggravated by standing for prolonged periods or by wearing high heels or shoes with a narrow toe box.
The most common condition misdiagnosed as Morton's neuroma is metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint synovitis. When pain occurs in the third interspace, the clinician may misdiagnose the condition as Morton's neuroma instead of MTP synovitis, which may manifest very much like Morton's neuroma. MTP synovitis is distinguished from Morton's neuroma by subtle swelling around the joint, pain localized mainly within the joint, and pain with forced toe flexion. Palpation of the MTP joint is performed best with a pinching maneuver from the dorsal and plantar aspects of the joint to elicit tenderness of the joint. Other conditions often misdiagnosed as Morton's neuroma include the following. Stress fracture of the neck of the metatarsal. Rheumatoid arthritis and other systemic arthritic conditions. Hammertoe. Metatarsalgia (ie, plantar tenderness over the metatarsal head) Less common conditions that have overlapping symptoms with Morton's neuroma include the following. Neoplasms. Metatarsal head osteonecrosis. Freiburg. steochondrosis. Ganglion cysts. Intermetatarsal bursal fluid collections. True neuromas.
Non Surgical Treatment
The good news is that the pain can often be relieved fairly easily with the right softer styled orthotic (even in those cases where there is concurrent plantar plate tears and capsulitis!), but its important to remeber that even if your no longer in pain, there is no magic cure to speeding up the healing process so one must take care of their feet for 6-12 weeks. As a rule of thumb a neuroma should always be treated conservatively where possible. This means icing and resting the area, trying to remove the causative factors, and providing postural control and support via metatarsal domes or, if needed, specialised pre-made or custom made orthotics.
When early treatments fail and the neuroma progresses past the threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary. The procedure, which removes the inflamed and enlarged nerve, can usually be conducted on an outpatient basis, with a recovery time that is often just a few weeks. Your podiatric physician will thoroughly describe the surgical procedures to be used and the results you can expect. Any pain following surgery is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatrist.