Morton's neuroma is an enlarged nerve that usually occurs in the third interspace, which is between the third and fourth toes. To understand Morton's neuroma further, it may be helpful to look at the anatomy of the foot. Problems often develop in the third interspace because part of the lateral plantar nerve combines with part of the medial plantar nerve here. When the two nerves combine, they are typically larger in diameter than those going to the other toes. Also, the nerve lies in subcutaneous tissue, just above the fat pad of the foot, close to an artery and vein. Above the nerve is a structure called the deep transverse metatarsal ligament. This ligament is very strong, holds the metatarsal bones together, and creates the ceiling of the nerve compartment. With each step, the ground pushes up on the enlarged nerve and the deep transverse metatarsal ligament pushes down. This causes compression in a confined space.
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.
Morton's neuroma can cause a very painful burning or sharp pain in your foot that feels worse when you walk. It may feel like a small lump inside the ball of your foot. It is usually between the third and fourth toes, but it can also be between other toes.
To diagnose Morton's neuroma the podiatrist commonly palpates the area to elicit pain, squeezing the toes from the side. Next he or she may try to feel the neuroma by pressing a thumb into the third interspace. The podiatrist then tries to elicit Mulder's sign, by palpating the affected interspace with one hand and squeezing the entire foot at the same time with the other hand. In many cases of Morton's neuroma, this causes an audible click, known as Mulder's sign. An x-ray should be taken to ensure that there is not a fracture. X-rays also can be used to examine the joints and bone density, ruling out arthritis (particularly rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis).
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.
Recently, an increasing number of procedures are being performed at specialist centers under radiological or ultrasound guidance. Recent studies have shown excellent results for the treatment of Morton's neuroma with ultrasound guided steroid injections, ultrasound guided sclerosing alcohol injections, ultrasound guided radiofrequency ablation and ultrasound guided cryo-ablation.