Morton's neuroma is a painful condition that affects the ball of your foot, most commonly the area between your third and fourth toes. Morton's neuroma may feel as if you are standing on a pebble in your shoe or on a fold in your sock. Morton's neuroma involves a thickening of the tissue around one of the nerves leading to your toes. This can cause a sharp, burning pain in the ball of your foot. Your toes also may sting, burn or feel numb. High-heeled shoes have been linked to the development of Morton's neuroma. Many people experience relief by switching to lower heeled shoes with wider toe boxes. Sometimes corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary.
Although the exact cause for this condition is unclear, a number of factors can contribute to the formation of a neuroma. Biomechanical deformities, such as a high-arched foot or a flat foot, can lead to the formation of a neuroma. These foot types bring on instability around the toe joints, leading to the development of the condition. Trauma can cause damage to the nerve, resulting in inflammation or swelling of the nerve. Improper footwear that causes the toes to be squeezed together is problematic. Avoid high-heeled shoes higher than two inches. Shoes at this height can increase pressure on the forefoot area. Repeated stress, common to many occupations, can create or aggravate a neuroma.
People with Morton's neuroma usually complain of pain that can start in the ball of the foot and shoot into the affected toes. However, some people just have toe pain. There may also be burning and tingling of the toes. The symptoms are usually felt up the sides of the space between two toes. For example, if the nerve between the third and fourth long bones (metatarsals) of the right foot is affected, the symptoms will usually be felt up the right-hand side of the fourth toe and up the left-hand side of the third toe. Some people describe the pain that they feel as being like walking on a stone or a marble. Symptoms can be made worse if you wear high-heeled shoes. The pain is relieved by taking your shoe off, resting your foot and massaging the area. You may also experience some numbness between the affected toes. Your affected toes may also appear to be spread apart, which doctors refer to as the 'V sign'. The symptoms can vary and may come and go over a number of years. For example, some people may experience two attacks of pain in a week and then nothing for a year. Others may have regular and persistent (chronic) pain.
Morton's neuroma is usually diagnosed by your doctor listening to your symptoms and examining your foot. Sometimes your doctor can feel the 'neuroma', or an area of thickening in your foot, which may be tender. Sometimes, your doctor may suggest an ultrasound scan or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis but this is not always necessary. Some doctors inject a local anaesthetic into the area where you are experiencing pain. If this causes temporary relief of pain, burning and tingling, it can sometimes help to confirm the diagnosis and show the doctor where the problem is.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor will likely recommend trying conservative approaches first. Arch supports and foot pads fit inside your shoe and help reduce pressure on the nerve. These can be purchased over-the-counter, or your doctor may prescribe a custom-made, individually designed shoe insert, molded to fit the exact contours of your foot.
Surgery is occasionally required when the conservative treatment is not able to relieve your symptoms, particularly if you have had pain for more than 6 months. 80% of patients who require surgery report good results, with 71% of people becoming pain-free.
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.