Morton’s Neuroma is a common problem in runners, and there are a number of simple fixes you can try before resorting more drastic solutions like sclerosing or surgery. A Morton’s Neuroma normally causes a burning pain in the forefoot, just behind the 3rd and 4th toes (sometimes behind the 2nd and 3rd toes). The pain often radiates towards the toes, and sometimes there is numbness rather than pain. The underlying cause is inflammation of the nerve between the bones of the forefoot, often triggered by narrow or tight shoes. I have had good results with the simple fixes described below, and I have had reports of other runners with similar success.
The cause of this problem is often due to impingement of the plantar nerve fibres between the metatarsal heads and the intermetatarsal ligament. It is entirely a biomechanical phenomenon. Differential diagnoses include stress fracture, capsulitis, bursitis or ligament injury at the metatarsal-phalangeal joint, a tendon sheath ganglion, foreign-body reaction and nerve-sheath tumour.
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.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the doctor attempts to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot. Other tests or imaging studies may be performed. The best time to see your foot and ankle surgeon is early in the development of symptoms. Early diagnosis of a Morton?s neuroma greatly lessens the need for more invasive treatments and may avoid surgery.
Non Surgical Treatment
It can be helpful to perform deep stripping massage techniques along the length of the tibial nerve and the medial and lateral plantar nerves. After properly mobilizing these tissues, moving the foot and toes through a full range of motion to make sure the nerve can move freely will also be helpful. Foot pain like that occurring in Morton’s neuroma, can become a debilitating and painful condition. And while massage can be helpful for this condition, it is also clear that improperly applied massage can aggravate it and make it worse. Consequently it is crucial that we use good clinical reasoning and appropriate evaluation methods to most effectively help these clients.
Operative treatment of Morton?s neuroma should be entertained only after failure of non-operative management. Standard operative treatment involves identifying the nerve and cutting (resecting) it proximal to the point where it is irritated/injured. This is usually done through an incision on the top (dorsal) aspect of the foot, although an incision on the sole (plantar) aspect of the foot can be used. Some physicians will attempt to treat Morton?s neuroma by releasing the intermetatarsal ligament, and freeing the nerve of local scar tissue. This may also be beneficial.