Mortons Neuroma is a common painful condition involving compression of nerves between the long bones of the forefoot just before they enter the toes. Commonly this involves the 3rd and 4th toes, however may affect the 2nd and 3rd toes. Repeated trauma or compression of these nerves causes the nerves to swell and thicken causing a Morton's neuroma to develop.
Some say that this condition should not be called Morton's neuroma as, in fact, it is not actually a neuroma. A neuroma is a non-cancerous (benign) tumour that grows from the fibrous coverings of a nerve. There is no tumour formation in Morton's neuroma. The anatomy of the bones of the foot is also thought to contribute to the development of Morton's neuroma. For example, the space between the long bones (metatarsals) in the foot is narrower between the second and third, and between the third and fourth metatarsals. This means that the nerves that run between these metatarsals are more likely to be compressed and irritated. Wearing narrow shoes can make this compression worse.
Symptoms include tingling in the space between the third and fourth toes, toe cramping, a sharp, shooting, or burning pain in the ball of the foot and sometimes toes, pain that increases when wearing shoes or pressing on the area, pain that gets worse over time. In rare cases, nerve pain occurs in the space between the second and third toes. This is not a common form of Morton neuroma, but treatment is similar.
There is a special orthopedic test called the Morton's test that is often used to evaluate the likelihood of plantar nerve compression. For this test, the client is supine on the treatment table. The practitioner grasps the client's forefoot from both sides and applies moderate pressure, squeezing the metatarsal heads together. If this action reproduces the client's symptoms (primarily sharp, shooting pain into the toes, especially the third and fourth), Morton's neuroma may exist.
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.
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.
Ensuring that shoes are well fitted, low-heeled and with a wide toe area may help to prevent Morton's neuroma.