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.
It's not always clear what causes Morton's neuroma, but several things seem to aggravate it. These include other foot-related problems and wearing restrictive footwear. It's thought that Morton's neuroma may be caused by the toe bones (metatarsal bones) pressing against the nerve when the gap between the bones is narrow. This causes the nerve and surrounding tissue to thicken.
Normally, there are no outward signs, such as a lump, because this is not really a tumor. Burning pain in the ball of the foot that may radiate into the toes. The pain generally intensifies with activity or wearing shoes. Night pain is rare. There may also be numbness in the toes, or an unpleasant feeling in the toes. Runners may feel pain as they push off from the starting block. High-heeled shoes, which put the foot in a similar position to the push-off, can also aggravate the condition. Tight, narrow shoes also aggravate this condition by compressing the toe bones and pinching the nerve.
In some cases your doctor will be able to feel the Morton's as a swelling in the middle of your foot. However they may also suggest an X-ray or a blood test - this is normally to rule our other causes of the pain such as arthritis. The most accurate way to diagnose Morton?s itself is with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.
Non Surgical Treatment
To help relieve the pain associated with Morton's neuroma and allow the nerve to heal, consider the following self-care tips. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve), can reduce swelling and relieve pain. Try ice massage. Regular ice massage may help reduce pain. Freeze a water-filled paper cup or plastic foam cup and roll the ice over the painful site. Change your footwear. Avoid high heels or tight shoes. Choose shoes with a broad toe box and extra depth. Take a break. For a few weeks, reduce activities such as jogging, aerobic exercise or dancing that subject your feet to high impact.
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.