If you sometimes feel that you are "walking on a marble," and you have persistent pain in the ball of your foot, you may have a condition called Morton's neuroma. A neuroma is a benign tumor of a nerve. Morton's neuroma is not actually a tumor, but a thickening of the tissue that surrounds the digital nerve leading to the toes. Morton's neuroma occurs as the nerve passes under the ligament connecting the toe bones (metatarsals) in the forefoot. Morton's neuroma most frequently develops between the third and fourth toes, usually in response to irritation, trauma or excessive pressure. The incidence of Morton's neuroma is 8 to 10 times greater in women than in men.
The source of this pain is an enlargment of the sheath of an intermetatarsal nerve in the foot. This usually occurs in the third intermetatarsal space, the space between the third and fourth toes and metatarsals. It occurs here, at the site third intermetatarsal nerve, since this intermetatarsal nerve is the thickest being comprised of the joining of two different nerves. It also may occur in the other intermetatarsal areas, with the second interspace being the next most common location.
Symptoms typically include pain, often with pins and needles on one side of a toe and the adjacent side of the next toe. Pain is made worse by forefoot weight bearing and can also be reproduced by squeezing the forefoot to further compress the nerve. Pressing in between the third and forth metatarsals for example with a pen can also trigger symptoms.
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
The best results are achieved with massage techniques that encourage spreading and mobilizing the metatarsal heads. Metatarsal spreading is one technique that can help reduce the detrimental effects of nerve compression. To perform this technique, pull the metatarsal heads (not just the toes) apart and hold them in this position to help stretch the intrinsic foot muscles and other soft-tissues. When this technique is combined with the use of toe spacers, it will be even more effective.
Surgery to excise the neuroma is usually performed under general anaesthetic in a day surgery facility. After surgery you will have to keep your foot dry for two weeks. Generally neuroma surgery allows for early weight bearing and protection in some type of post op shoe gear. Some neuromas may reoccur, but this is rare. Most studies on patient satisfaction after neuroma surgery show approximately 90% reduction of pain and about 85% of all patients rated the overall satisfaction with the results as excellent or good.