A neuroma develops when a nerve is compressed, injured or pinched, causing swelling and pain. A neuroma in the area between the third and fourth toes, or between the second and third toes, is known as a Morton?s neuroma. Morton?s neuroma causes sharp, burning pain and numbness in the toes and foot. You may feel like you?ve stepped on a tiny hot coal and can?t get rid of it. At the same time, you?ll have the disconcerting experience of not being able to feel your toes. Sometimes the nerve tissue becomes so thickened you can feel or see a lump.
When a nerve is pinched between bones, the result is swelling of the nerve. It is this swelling which is referred to as a Neuroma. When the condition occurs in the foot, it is known as a Morton?s Neuroma. Morton?s Neuroma is technically not a tumor. Rather, it is a thickening of the tissue that surrounds the digital nerves leading to the toes. These nerves allow for physical sensation on the skin of the toes. The region of inflammation is found where the digital nerve passes under the ligament connecting the toe bones (metatarsals) in the forefoot. Morton?s Neuroma commonly develops between the third and fourth toes, generally as a result of ongoing irritation, trauma or excessive pressure. In some cases, the second and third toes are involved. Morton?s Neuroma is confined to one foot in most cases, though it can occur in both, particularly in athletes such as runners.
It usually occurs in between the 3rd and 4th toes (about 65% of cases) as is pictured to the right. It is less commonly found in the 2nd webspace, and rarely at all in the 1st or 4th webspaces. You can also experience pins and needles and/or numbness as a result of the nerve being affected. The condition tends to occur predominantly in middle aged females.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose a Morton's neuroma. Investigations such as an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or bone scan may sometimes be used to assist with diagnosis, assess the severity of the injury and rule out other conditions.
Non Surgical Treatment
You may be able to treat this problem at home. Avoid wearing tight, pointy, or high-heeled shoes. Choose well-fitted shoes with plenty of room for your toes. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and swelling. These include ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (such as Aleve). Rest your feet when you can. Reduce activities that put pressure on the toes, such as racquet sports or running. Try massaging your foot to relax the muscles around the nerve. If these steps do not relieve your symptoms, your doctor may have you use special pads or devices that spread the toes to keep them from squeezing the nerve. In some cases, a doctor may give a steroid shot to reduce swelling and pain. If these treatments do not help, your doctor may suggest surgery.
The ultimate success of a Morton?s neuroma treated surgically can be variable. In cases where the underlying problem is only an irritated nerve (a true Morton?s neuroma), then surgery will probably be curative (although it may take a few months for the foot to fully heal). But in many cases, forefoot pain is more complex. There may be an irritated nerve or two causing pain, but the real problem is often excessive loading of the lesser metatarsals. The generic term for this condition is metatarsalgia. When considering surgery, identifying and addressing these problems may lead to a better end result.
To help reduce your chance of developing Morton's neuroma avoid wearing tight and/or high-heeled shoes. Maintain or achieve ideal body weight. If you play sports, wear roomy, properly fitting athletic footwear.